Muscat – Hand axes from the period of the first human migration out of Africa, circular burial chambers, a collection of rock engravings, and an Arabian Stonehenge are some of the unique findings reported by an international team led by the Institute of Archaeology of the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Prague.
The team successfully completed its third excavation season in Oman in March and collected samples, which are now being analysed by experts and will contribute to the reconstruction of the earliest history of the world’s largest sand desert – Rub al Khali.
Czech archaeologists have been focusing on the still underexplored desert areas of Oman for a long time. More than 20 archaeologists and geologists from ten countries were involved in the excavations at two different sites.
The first expedition team was situated in Dhofar, while the second operated in Duqm.
Arabian Peninsula as a migration corridor
In the dunes of Rub al Khali in Dhofar, researchers unearthed stone hand axes that date back to the first human migration out of Africa some 300,000 to 1.3mn years ago. Due to its geographical location, Arabia served as a natural migration route from the African cradle of humankind into Eurasia, stated CAS in a report.
Among dunes up to 300m high, the team managed to find eggshells of extinct ostriches and an old riverbed from a period when the climate in Arabia was significantly wetter. “Our findings, supported by four different dating methods, will provide valuable data for reconstructing the climate and history of the world’s largest sand desert. Natural conditions also shaped prehistoric settlements, and what we are trying to do is study human adaptability to climate change,” said expedition leader and coordinator Roman Garba from the Institute of Archaeology.
Circular burial chambers
The second expedition team operated in Duqm, focusing in particular on a Neolithic tomb dating back to 5,000–4,600 BC at the Nafun site.
“What we find here is unique in the context of the whole of southern Arabia. A megalithic structure concealing two circular burial chambers revealed the skeletal remains of at least several dozen individuals. Isotopic analyses of bones, teeth and shells will help us learn more about the diet, natural environment and migrations of the buried population,” explained Alzbeta Danielisova from the Institute of Archaeology.
Not far from the tomb, there is a unique collection of rock engravings spread out over a total of 49 rock blocs, whose different styles and varying degrees of weathering provide a pictorial record of settlements from 5,000 BC to 1,000 CE. Researchers also investigated stone tool production sites from the Late Stone Age.
The research in Oman is part of a wider project by evolutionary anthropologist Viktor Cerny from the Institute of Archaeology. His research focuses on biocultural interactions of populations and their adaptation to climate change.
“The detected interactions of African and Arab archaeological cultures characterise the mobility of populations of anatomically modern humans. It will be interesting to confront these findings also with the genetic diversity of the two regions and create a more comprehensive view of the formation of contemporary society in Southern Arabia,” Cerny explained.