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Inside ancient Saudi Arabian lava tube that humans hid in 7,000 years ago

Modern Homo sapiens have been around for about 160,000 years, and in that time have created a plethora of fascinating sites, some of which continue to be discovered to this day.

One such dwelling was only recently found by archaeologists working in Saudi Arabia, where evidence of an ancient shelter was found inside a vast lava tube.

It is thought that humans used it for over 7,000 years, and archaeologists, writing in a new study, say the revelation casts an entirely new light on our ancient ancestors.

Previous research had established that Northern Arabia was a dynamic site of the evolution and cultural development of ancient humans.

However, the timing of their occupation of the region and the emergence of advanced civilisations in the Levant was poorly understood.

This was largely due to poorly preserved remains in the area’s arid climate.

With a renewed interest in archaeology in the region, however, archaeologists are increasingly studying caves and ancient dwellings, with many holding materials and relics that have been perfectly preserved from the sun, wind, and extreme temperatures.

The latest study, published in the journal Plos One, saw researchers assess a lava tube called Umm Jirsan located in the volcanic field of Harrat Khaybar in Saudi Arabia, about 125km north of Medina.

So far, they have found artefacts, rock art, and skeletal remains that reveal at least 7,000 years of human occupation.

According to the archaeologists, the lava tube could have been an important resource for pastoralists herding livestock given the rock art and remains of animal bones at the site.

Mathew Stewart, a co-author of the study, said: “Our findings at Umm Jirsan provide a rare glimpse into the lives of ancient peoples in Arabia, revealing repeated phases of human occupation and shedding light on the pastoralist activities that once thrived in this landscape.”

Further evidence of the use of plants such as cereal and fruit in the diet could be attributed to a rise in oasis agriculture during the Bronze Age.

Analysis of some of the remains found at the site showed that livestock dined on wild grasses and shrubs, while humans enjoyed a diet rich in protein.

The Umm Jirsan lava tube probably wasn’t a permanent home. Rather, it may have acted as a stop-off for travellers who needed respite in the near-inhospitable environment while travelling from oasis settlement to oasis settlement.

“This site likely served as a crucial waypoint along pastoral routes, linking key oases and facilitating cultural exchange and trade.” Dr Stewart said.

Michael Petraglia, another author of the study, said: “These findings underscore the immense potential for interdisciplinary investigations in caves and lava tubes, offering a unique window into Arabia’s ancient past.”


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