Recent archaeological research in Arabia has uncovered interesting insights into the ancient history of the region. This interdisciplinary study sheds light on how people lived, migrated, and adapted to their surroundings over thousands of years, despite the challenges of migration and adaptation in arid environments.

One breakthrough comes from exploring underground environments like caves and lava tubes, which hadn’t been fully explored for their archaeological potential until now.

Led by the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution (ARCHE) at Griffith University, in collaboration with international partners, researchers meticulously excavated Umm Jirsan, unearthing a treasure trove of evidence spanning from around 10,000 to 3,500 years ago.

Photographs of Umm Jirsan cave and interior sections of the lava tube
Photographs of Umm Jirsan cave and interior sections of the lava tube. Credit: M. Stewart et al.

Dr. Mathew Stewart, the lead researcher, highlights that the findings provide a rare glimpse into the lives of ancient peoples in Arabia, as the site likely served as a crucial stop for travelers herding animals between oases, fostering cultural exchange and trade along the way.

The discovery of rock art and animal remains paints a vivid picture of ancient pastoral lifestyles, showing how people herded cattle, sheep, goats, and even dogs.

By analyzing the remains of both animals and humans, researchers gained insights into ancient diets and agricultural practices. It appears that while livestock grazed on grasses and wild shrubs, humans consumed a diet rich in protein, with a shift towards more plant-based foods over time, indicating the emergence of oasis agriculture.

Cave art recorded at Umm Jirsan
Cave art recorded at Umm Jirsan. Credit: M. Stewart et al.

Professor Michael Petraglia, ARCHE Director, emphasizes the significance of this research, noting that it’s the first comprehensive study of its kind in Saudi Arabia. The findings underscore the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration in unlocking the secrets of the past, offering a unique window into Arabia’s ancient civilizations.

This research also highlights the importance of collaborative efforts between archaeologists and governmental bodies like the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, the Saudi Ministry of Culture, and the Saudi Geological Survey.

Institutions from the United Kingdom, United States, and Germany, including King Saud University, have also played key roles in this endeavor.


Griffith University | Stewart M, Andrieux E, Blinkhorn J, Guagnin M, Fernandes R, Vanwezer N, et al. (2024) First evidence for human occupation of a lava tube in Arabia: The archaeology of Umm Jirsan Cave and its surroundings, northern Saudi Arabia. PLoS ONE 19(4): e0299292.

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