discovery of a Neolithic cave

Saudi Arabia. An article published on April 17 in the scientific journal Plos one announces the discovery of traces of occupation of a cave and a lava tube at the site of Umm Jirsan, in the northwest of the country, near Medina. Little explored until now, these partly buried sites have provided archaeologists with human and animal bones (see ill.) as well as other archaeological traces which indicate that the site was occupied “at least from the Neolithic to the Chalcolithic and the Bronze Age”or several millennia (around 6,000 to 3,000 BC).

Exceptional for its size (1,500 m long and 45 m wide), this lava tunnel is the largest in the country and has been known since 2021 for its animal bone deposits. The study of human occupation in this region is incomplete, and the excavations at Umm Jirsan are part of a major project by the Saudi Heritage Commission (public operator) to study ancient pastoral communities. Indeed, researchers point out that the use of caves and lava tubes by groups of breeders is attested “through cave art and surveys of local fauna”which led them to the hypothesis that the tunnel and its surroundings belonged to an ancient pastoral route along which the caves constituted stages.

The first results of carbon-14 analyzes reveal animal bones dating from 4,000 BC and an older human skull (6,000 BC). While the current climate is arid – the region is desert – research shows that at the end of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, the climate was rather temperate: the caves have yielded very plant and animal remains. varied including those of animals currently absent from the region (hyenas, horses, domestic donkeys, dogs, camels). These discoveries confirm the existence of a rich ecosystem already known from the cave paintings, as specified in the press release from the Saudi Heritage Commission.

The authors of the article add that regarding the human diet, analyzes show that it was “rich in animal proteins, with an increase in the consumption of plants and cereals over time”perhaps linked to the progress of agriculture in the oases of the region in the 4th millennium BC. These new data make it possible to clarify the chronology of local pastoral groups and their way of life before their sedentarization and the spread of agriculture.

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