Live Science reveals the simple treasures of Wadi Dabsa, where stone hand-axes, scrapers, spear-points and hammers are among a trove of relics that might show how early – and for what reasons – the first human ancestors moved out of Africa and into the Arabian peninsula:
More than 1,000 stone artifacts, some of which may be up to 1.76 million years old, have been discovered at Wadi Dabsa, in southwest Saudi Arabia near the Red Sea.
The artifacts, which were found in what is now an arid landscape, date to a time when the climate was wetter; they may provide clues as to how and when different hominins left Africa, researchers said.
The stone artifacts include the remains of hand axes, cleavers (a type of knife), scrapers (used to scrape the flesh off of animal hides), projectile points (that would have been attached to the ends of spears), piercers (stone tools that can cut small holes through hide or flesh) and hammer stones. One of the hand axes is unusually heavy, weighing just under 8 lbs. (3.6 kilograms), the researchers said.
Based on the tool design, archaeologists said they can tell that many of the artifacts are “Acheulian,” a term used to describe types of stone tools made between 1.76 million years and 100,000 years ago. When exactly within this time frame the various artifacts at Wadi Dabsa were made is uncertain, the archaeologists said.
“We hope to try and date the tufa [a type of limestone] and basalt flows within the site, which are associated [with] the large [stone artifact] assemblage recovered from within the wadi,” said study lead author Frederick Foulds, an archaeology professor at Durham University in England. Once the team has more-precise dates for the artifacts, the scientists may be able to determine what type of hominins made the tools, Foulds said.
One of the big questions is how the changes in climate affected the dispersal of hominins from out of Africa, Foulds said.
“What’s interesting about the Wadi Dabsa region is that the geography of the region may have created a refuge from these changes,” Foulds said.
Because of Wadi Dabsa’s topography the region may have received rainfall when other parts of Saudi Arabia were arid. Hominins were able “to continue living there [at Wadi Dabsa] when they couldn’t live in other areas,” Foulds said. Researchers have found that Wadi Dabsa’s topography includes a basin which may have had streams of water flowing down its slopes, the water possibly pooling in the basin.