Hydroclimate of the western Nefud Desert during Marine Isotope Stage 5

Richard Clark-Wilson, Simon Armitage, Ian Candy

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Fossil, genetic and archaeological evidence increasingly support the idea that Homo sapiens populations dispersed from Africa and into Eurasia during Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5. However, the dispersal pathways used remain contentious, despite considerable efforts to understand them. This is primarily due to a sparse fossil record coupled with a limited understanding of resource distribution across southwest Asia. The western Nefud Desert lies at a critical crossroads between Africa and Eurasia as it is just ~550 km southeast of the Sinai Peninsula, the only terrestrial route from Africa. Today the region is hyper-arid and a formidable barrier to overland movement, yet in the past has experienced episodic humid phases characterised by increased resource availability in the form of a savannah grassland containing freshwater interdunal lakes. However, detailed empirical palaeoenvironmental records in direct association with archaeology and/or fossil remains are rare. Here, we reconstruct freshwater availability within the western Nefud Desert during MIS 5. We apply a multi-proxy palaeoenvironmental analysis to four interdunal palaeolake sediment deposits with direct evidence for human occupation. A combination of macro-sedimentology, micromorphology, diatom palaeoecology, and oxygen and carbon isotope analysis, in combination with a luminescence-based chronology, demonstrate that the western Nefud Desert contained interconnected, freshwater and perennial interdunal lakes during two separate humid phases in MIS 5. These lakes lay within a resource rich landscape inhabited by Homo sapiens, suggesting that the Nefud Desert was an important dispersal pathway out of Africa.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventINQUA 2019 - Dublin, Ireland
Duration: 25 Jul 201931 Jul 2019


ConferenceINQUA 2019
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