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13 December 2010
Persian Gulf sites hint at prehistoric people

A study published in the newest issue of Current Anthropology by archeologist Jeffrey Rose of the University of Birmingham (UK) suggests early human habitation 100,000 years ago in a Persian 'Gulf Oasis' now underwater. "The emerging picture suggests that early modern humans were able to survive hyperarid climate oscillations by contracting into environmental refugia around the coastal margins of the Arabian peninsula," begins his study. "There is a noticeable spike in settlement activity around the shoreline of the Gulf between 8,500 and 6,000 years ago," Rose says. (The end of an Ice Age flooded today's Persian Gulf around 8,000 years ago.)
     Geoffrey Bailey of the University of York says the study's suggestion that Arabian continental shelves served as good environments for humans during Ice Ages, "and served as a source of population expansion in the early Holocene is an attractive one."
     Robert Carter of the Oxford Brookes University questions the links that Rose sees between ancient stone age tools found in the area and the later Sumerian civilization. "There are problems with assigning both the populations of southern Mesopotamia and eastern Arabia to the same demographic origin in the Gulf basin. The industry of early southern Mesopotamia has little in common with the Arabian tradition that prevailed between 8,000 and 6,000 BCE."
     "Connecting the flood myth with any particular period is problematic," says archeologist Carrie Hritz of Penn State. "We have evidence from antiquity of highly destructive flood events throughout Mesopotamia, any one of which could have contribute to the formation of the myth."
     Archeologist Paul Mellars of the University of Cambridge says he is skeptical of the study. "There is no archeological or skeletal evidence that supports the speculation. The argument in Rose's study for people expanding into modern-day Israel about 90,000 years ago and from there to Arabia and India relies upon the selection of a few points favoring the argument and ignores the great weight of geneticist's views of how late modern humans emerged from Africa."

Edited from USA Today (6 December 2010)

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