Palaeodeserts project finds more evidence of green events on Arabian Peninsula

September 06, 2017

The Nefud desert today with palaeolake sediments between dunes (Source: Palaeodeserts Project, Max Planck Institute)

A palaeodeserts project team that is investigating the prehistoric environments and human occupations has found that the Arabian Peninsula was green. Called the Green Arabia events, this occurred several times during the last few hundred thousand years and Oman particularly has the potential for further finds.

Dr Paul S Breeze, research associate at King’s College London said, “We have been working for five years now in many different locations all over Saudi Arabia, to investigate the prehistoric environments and human occupations of Arabia. A particular focus of our work has been investigating the remains of ancient rivers and lakes found through satellite imagery analysis, by going into the field to analyse the deposits and hunt for fossils and stone tools in and around them.”

Breeze added, “Previous research has demonstrated that the prehistoric environmental and archaeological records of Oman are rich - for example work in the Wahiba and Saiwan by Frank Preusser and Albert Matter, and Jeff Rose’s work in Dhofar. Our work has identified many targets of interest, and there is plenty of potential for further finds in Oman.”

Arabia was green “At various points in the past, monsoon rainfall reached the Arabian interior, and much of the peninsula may have been more like a Savannah Grassland. We know lakes formed across much of the Peninsula, including in the Empty Quarter, during these ‘Green Arabia’ wet events.

“There were elephants in the Nefud desert during one of these events between 500,000-350,000 years ago. Hippopotamus bones found in the Empty Quarter suggest that Hippos may also have been in Arabia during these wet events, although these are not dated at the moment,” Breeze said.

He added, “Green Arabia events occurred several times during the last few hundred thousand years. The most recent was around 6,000-10,000 years ago, and a wetter event occurred around 125,000 years ago.”

A Muscat Daily article published in May 2014, spoke to Palaeolithic archaeologist Jeffery Rose, who had researched in Oman for over a decade, with the cooperation of the Ministry of Heritage and Culture, said, “Among a handful of sites from the last million years, we found a couple of ‘findspots’ with Nubian Complex artefacts. These findings underscore the scope of human presence in the southern Rub al Khali and it is no surprise that each of these periods of occupation corresponds to a pluvial cycle, in which heightened monsoon activity transformed the Rub al Khali into a Savannah Grassland dotted with playa lakes.”

The Max Planck Institute’s Palaeodeserts Project comprises an interdisciplinary team of specialists from various universities internationally and in Saudi Arabia, and from the Saudi Commission for tourism and National Heritage, the Saudi Geological Survey, and Saudi Aramco.