Journal article Open Access

New Light on Human Prehistory in the Arabo-Persian Gulf Oasis

Rose, Jeffrey I.

The emerging picture of prehistoric Arabia suggests that early modern humans were able to surviveperiodic hyperarid oscillations by contracting into environmental refugia around the coastal marginsof the peninsula. This paper reviews new paleoenvironmental, archaeological, and genetic evidencefrom the Arabian Peninsula and southern Iran to explore the possibility of a demographic refugiumdubbed the "Gulf Oasis," which is posited to have been a vitally significant zone for populationsresiding in southwest Asia during the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene. These data are used toassess the role of this large oasis, which, before being submerged beneath the waters of the IndianOcean, was well watered by the Tigris, Euphrates, Karun, and Wadi Batin rivers as wellassubterraneanaquifers flowing beneath the Arabian subcontinent. Inverse to the amount of annual precipitationfalling across the interior, reduced sea levels periodically exposed large portions of the Arabo-PersianGulf, equal at times to the size of Great Britain. Therefore, when the hinterlands were desiccated,populations could have contracted into the Gulf Oasis to exploit its freshwater springs and rivers.This dynamic relationship betweenenvironmentalamelioration/desiccationandmarinetransgression/regression is thought to have driven demographic exchange into and out of this zone over the courseof the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene, as well as having played an important role in shapingthe cultural evolution of local human populations during that interval.

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