LifestyleDiscovering History: Saudi Arabia's Lava Tunnel Sheds Light on Ancient Life

Discovering History: Saudi Arabia's Lava Tunnel Sheds Light on Ancient Life

Researchers discovered traces of ancient human activity in Al-Medina Al-Munawwarah.
Researchers discovered traces of ancient human activity in Al-Medina Al-Munawwarah.
Images source: © Comisión de Patrimonio

7:07 AM EDT, April 19, 2024

Scientists believe a lava tunnel in Saudi Arabia was a refuge for our ancestors for nearly 7,000 years but not as their permanent home. We now understand when and why they resided there.

Recent interdisciplinary archaeological research in Saudi Arabia has led to successive revelations about the evolution of local communities despite challenges such as the poor preservation of archaeological sites and organic remains.

Traces of human activity discovered in the Umm Jirsan lava tunnel

Researchers from Griffith University’s Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution have made groundbreaking discoveries while exploring underground systems like caves and lava tunnels. These lesser-studied areas could hold keys to understanding ancient cultures.

Thanks to meticulous excavation efforts, the team uncovered evidence of human activity in the well-documented Umm Jirsan lava tunnel, dating from about 10,000 to 3,500 years ago.

"Our findings at Umm Jirsan provide a rare glimpse into the lives of ancient peoples in Arabia, revealing repeated phases of human occupation and shedding light on the pastoralist activities that once thrived in this landscape," said Mathew Stewart, lead researcher, in an interview with PLOS ONE. "This site likely served as a crucial waypoint along pastoral routes, linking key oases and facilitating cultural exchange and trade" he added.

A pioneering interdisciplinary study in Saudi Arabia

The discovery of animal bones and rock paintings depicting sheep, goats, cattle, and dogs paints a vivid picture of life in and around the tunnel.

Isotopic analyses of the remains suggest that the animals grazed on wild grasses and bushes while humans had a protein-rich diet. This suggests an increasing reliance on plant consumption, indicating an oasis-associated culture's emergence.

"While underground localities are globally significant in archaeology and Quaternary science, our research represents the first comprehensive study of its kind in Saudi Arabia," noted Professor Michael Petraglia, a project collaborator. "These findings underscore the immense potential for interdisciplinary investigations in caves and lava tubes, offering a unique window into Arabia's ancient past," he explained.
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