Paradise Lost: Gulf Oasis Was Home to Earliest Humans that Existed Africa – But What Forced them Out?
Before the Persian Gulf existed, when the last ice age caused the ocean level to drop 90 meters (295 ft) below our current sea level, “100,000 km (62137 miles) of land in this part of the world was exposed for almost 60,000 years.” It created an oasis, that “housed a rich mosaic of freshwater springs, river floodplains, mangrove swamps, lakes, marshes and estuaries.“ A veritable paradise.
Jeffrey Rose, Theresa Howard-Carter, and V. Gordon Childe are but a few of the eminent archaeologists over the last 100 years to theorize that this paradise, dubbed the “Gulf Oasis,” was home to some of the earliest humans that had exited Africa. In fact, Jeffrey Rose postulated the idea that this oasis and the people who lived there for tens of thousands of years, was actually “ground zero to the agricultural and urban revolutions found within our ancient past.”
If Jeffery Rose is correct, this ancient landscape may have played an important role in supporting the transition of humans out of the Palaeolithic and into the Neolithic time periods, helping us to expand our understanding of the human story. Unfortunately, we can no longer explore this part of the world, since the oasis that once existed there is now lost to us due to an ocean that has reclaimed it. It is also impossible for us to use maps to explore this landscape, as a highly-detailed map of this area of the world does not exist, or at least to us non-military personnel.
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Farmers in the Neolithic era. ( world-mysteries)
Mapping the Gulf Oasis
That is until a grade school teacher decided to explore this oasis to better understand how it supported our evolution during the last 50,000 years. Over the last year, Andrew Dold used the “Path” tool in combination with the elevation tool available in Google Earth to painstakingly recreate the Google Earth data that the program produces so as to create a highly detailed bathymetric map of the eastern side of the gulf oasis in as little as 1 meter (3.28 ft.) increments. Not satisfied with having created a map full of contour lines, the artist took pieces of satellite imagery from around the world and stitched them together in Photoshop, merging them with the bathymetric map that he had created to produce an artistic representation of the exposed landscape our ancient ancestors called home.
Now for the first time we can see a clearer picture of how the lower Shatt-al-Arab had formed a large lake within the Gulf Oasis; a lake that was close in size to that of Lake Ontario, and one that, according to mainstream science, had existed in this part of the world for more than 60,000 years. This extraordinary length of time would have allowed nature to create a unique freshwater ecosystem that could have supported a more sedentary lifestyle for our early ancestors. An idea made possible only by the fact that this lake was one of the largest, most stable sources of fresh water found in this region of the ancient world. A source of water that would have housed many different plants and animals throughout the centuries, and would have drawn all manner of migrating life to its shores from the more arid landscape that surrounded it. Jeffrey Rose has even gone so far as to theorize several locations where humans may have permanently settled in this oasis, as indicated in figure 1.
Figure 1: The Gulf Oasis: 50,000 BCE - 10,000 BCE (Dold. 2016, Lambeck. 1996; Fairbanks, R.G. 1989)
When Was Paradise Lost?
However, as important as this lake was in supporting the agricultural and urban revolutions that Jeffrey Rose proposes, all good things must come to an end. Somewhere in our distant past there came a point when this paradise was lost to our early ancestors. It is self-evident that the ocean eventually displaced these people and forced them to move up and into the Fertile Crescent. So, when did this forced migration occur, and was there an event that could signal the beginning of the end to the way of life that these people had developed?
Using Fairbanks’ and Lambeck’s research on the rising ocean levels over the last 15,000 years, a rough estimate can be drawn to show how fast and in what time frame each meter of ocean rise occurred. Applying this information to the map of the Gulf Oasis Dold had created, it seems that around 11,500 years ago, over the span of a single lifetime, a devastating event did in fact occur, an event that killed this important lake and forced our early ancestors to migrate out of paradise.
‘The Paradise’ (1626) by Roelant Savery. ( Public Domain )
This event happened in three stages. The first stage, as seen in figures 2 and 3, began when the rising ocean went from -80 to -79.8 meters (-262.47 to -261.81 ft.) below today’s sea level. Within a decade, the ocean rose out of the canyon that lay in the Straits of Hormuz and into the first of several lakes that existed in this oasis. In a 10 to 15 year span, an influx of saltwater had entered this freshwater ecosystem and killed it.
Figure 2: Gulf Oasis with the ocean at a depth of -80 meters below current sea levels, circa 11,520 BP. (Dold. 2016, Lambeck. 1996; Fairbanks, R.G. 1989)
Figure 3: Gulf Oasis with the ocean at a depth of -79.8 meters below current sea levels, circa 11,510 BP. (Dold. 2016, Lambeck. 1996; Fairbanks, R.G. 1989)
The second stage occurred over 50-60 years, as seen below in figure 4, as the shoreline of this now flooded lake rose to a depth of -79 meters (-259.19 ft.) below our current sea level. Astonishingly enough, this rise in ocean level had very little effect on the surrounding landscape and may have gone unnoticed.
Figure 4: Gulf Oasis with the ocean at a depth of -79.8 meters below current sea levels, circa 11,510 BP. (Dold. 2016, Lambeck. 1996; Fairbanks, R.G. 1989)
Things Take a Turn for the Worse
However, it is in the third stage of this event were we truly see things take a turn for the worse. In the span of 10 to 15 years, as seen below in figure 5, when the ocean rose from -79 meters to -78.8 meters (-259.19 ft. to -258.53 ft.) below today’s sea level, in what I can only imagine being interpreted as a punishment from “God,” an influx of salt water entered the largest freshwater ecosystem this part of the world had ever known, and killed it. A truly devastating event as this influx of saltwater would have killed all of the freshwater species of plants and animals that lived in or near its shores and altered the migration routes of the land animals that depended on its water.
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Figure 5: Gulf Oasis with the ocean at a depth of -79.8 meters below current sea levels, circa 11,450 BP. (Dold. 2016, Lambeck. 1996; Fairbanks, R.G. 1989)
As we know, the importance of fresh water, not only to provide food, but also to drink, is essential for life. If Jeffery Rose and the other archaeologists are correct and our ancient ancestors did in fact occupy this part of the world, the death of this lake would have heralded the end to their way of life approximately 11,450 years ago. The death of such an important source of freshwater would have forced them to abandon this land and begin the migration out of this oasis and up into the fertile crescent in search of new sources of food and water to drink.
Though this may not have been the only devastating event these people had been witness to. Imagine what it would have been like for those ancient peoples who were affected by the death of this ecosystem if we add the science that Dr. McClure, Douglas J. Kennett, James P. Kennett and so many others who have published about the Indian monsoon shifting to a northerly direction, making its way over the Gulf Oasis at about the same time this precious freshwater lake dies. A storm that could have easily added another 10 meters (32.81 ft.) of water to this floodplain.
India monsoon clouds. (Saravask/ CC BY SA 2.0 )
The combination of both events would have been devastating, so much so, that it may have become etched into the collective consciousness of these ancient people and been passed down to us through myth. An interesting possibility, but an idea to explore for another time.
Top Image: Oasis. Source: Public Domain
By Andrew Dold
Jeffrey I. Rose - 2010 - New Light on Human Prehistory in the Arabo-Persian Gulf Oasis, Current Anthropology Vol. 51, No. 6, pp. 849-883 - The University of Chicago Press on behalf of Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research
A larger version of this map can be found at my website andrewdold.com. The map illustrates where modern day Oman and Iran exist, as well as providing latitudes and longitudes. This larger version can be found at this link http://www.andrewdold.com/gulf-oasis.html
Where can we view your maps larger and in context of modern day geography please?