Artifacts Reveal Out of Africa Route Through Negev Desert
A spectacular Meso-Paleolithic site has been found in the Negev Desert in Israel. Artifacts from this desert site are enhancing archaeologists’ understanding of how modern humans made their way into the Middle East. The discovery is also helping researchers to understand the routes taken by Homo Sapiens when they were spreading around the world.
The Negev Desert site was found by experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). They were working on a recovery dig before the commencement of a large-scale solar energy project when they came across the site near the city of Dimona. During their investigations, they found a large number of stone tools.
The site where the Nubian Levallois tools were found in the Negev Desert. (Emil Eladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority)
Early Human Tools in the Negev Desert
A preliminary examination of the tools found that they were made of flint, were manufactured using the ‘Nubian Levallois’ technique, and that they are probably 100,000 years old. The Nubian Levallois was a knapping technique used to make tools and even arrowheads with points and sharp edges. Haaretz reports that it is ‘A flint tool technology apparently unique to early modern humans.’ This was a dramatic discovery because these artifacts have never been definitively found in Israel before.
In a press statement, the IAA experts explained that “This technique is identified with the modern humans that lived in East Africa 150-100,000 years ago and migrated from there to around the world.” Similar finds have been made in recent decades in the Arabian Peninsula. This has persuaded many experts to argue that anatomically modern humans left East Africa via the Arabian Peninsula.
Talia Abulafia and Maya Oron from the IAA wrote in the press statement that “The site from Dimona probably represents the northernmost penetration of the flint tool industry from there, thus marking a migration route from Africa to Saudi Arabia and from there, perhaps, to the Negev,” according to The Jerusalem Post.
Stone Tool “Calling Cards”
The flint artifacts are not only important in themselves; they also offer further evidence as to how the waves of early modern humans left Africa. Co-director of the dig, Maya Oron, told The Times of Israel, this “technique is a calling card that allows archaeologists to firmly date where and when modern man were in specific areas.” The discovery is enabling researchers to piece together the route taken by modern humans as they migrated from Africa to Eurasia.
The researchers found the tools and also the evidence of how they were manufactured. Oron is quoted by The Times of Israel as stating that the early humans “left remnants of production onsite.” The Negev Desert site was later covered by sand during a storm, which is actually a good thing, since this will preserve it until it can be investigated further.
Levallois technique: Reconstruction of a core reassembled from blades for illustration purposes, Boqer Tachtit, Negev, Israel, from about 40,000 BC. (Gary Todd)
Modern Humans and Neanderthals Met There
Today, the Negev Desert is a desolate area, but some 100,000 years ago, it would not have been as barren - there was more water and even animals. It would have sustained small groups of prehistoric hunter-gatherers.
The makers of the flint tools were probably one of several waves of humans who made their way out of Eastern Africa. However, modern humans were not the only species of hominids in the region in the Meso-Paleolithic period.
At the same time as modern humans were entering the Negev, another species of archaic humans was also possibly migrating into the area. It seems that Neanderthals from Europe and Central Asia were migrating into the area too, based on archaeological finds. Genetic evidence suggests the two species of archaic humans met and even interbed. Oron is quoted by the Times of Israel as saying, “We can see that the Neanderthals and modern human were around at the same time in the same places, and we’re trying to make sense of what happened when they met. How did they interact?”
- Does the Negev’s Ancient Rock-Art Help Turn the Bible Exodus Story into Fact?
- Boutique Wine for Byzantines: 1,600-year-old Wine Press Discovered in the Negev Desert
- Is there truth to the Bedouin Legend of the Great River in the Desert?
The Arabian Route Out of Africa
Interestingly, other flint tools from the period were also found at another site in the Negev Desert. Mai Goder-Goldberger, the lead researcher who made these finds, stated to The Times of Israel that this is “adding data to the ongoing recent discussions regarding archaeological markers of modern human dispersals out of Africa and feasible routes into Eurasia and Arabia.”
Tool found in the Negev with sharpened tip typical of Nubian Levallois technique. (Emil Eladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority)
A 2011 genetic study of the human genome revealed that modern humans arrived in Eurasia by crossing into Arabia. Traditionally it was believed that our forebears left Africa via the Sinai. The latest finds in Israel are once again showing that it was not the probable route taken, and they highlight the importance of South-West Asia in the peopling of the planet.
Top image: Tools featuring Nubian Levallois technique found in situ by Dimona, in the Negev Desert, Israel. Source: Emil Eladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority
By Ed Whelan