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Multi-scale Acheulean landscape survey in the Arabian Desert

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Jennings, R. P., Shipton, C., Breeze, P., Cuthbertson, P., Bernal, M. A., Wedage, W. M. C. O., et al. (2015). Multi-scale Acheulean landscape survey in the Arabian Desert. Quaternary International, 382, 58-81. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2015.01.028.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0003-EB9E-3
The interpretation of Acheulean landscape use through the analysis of artefact distributions over a range of environmental settings is vital for understanding early hominin behaviour. Such approaches have been successfully applied in areas such as East Africa and South Africa, where long-term and sustained archaeological research has led to the development of robust environmental frameworks within which to analyse hominin land-use patterns. Much less is known about Acheulean hominin behaviour in the Arabian Peninsula, which is increasingly being recognised as an important area for studying early hominin dispersals and adaptations to new environments. To address this lacuna, we have undertaken the first multi-scale systematic survey of Acheulean occupation evidence at Dawadmi, in the centre of the Arabian Peninsula. Specifically, we carried out systematic transect surveys over a large andesite dyke at Saffaqah, on which the majority of 26 known Acheulean sites are associated, as well as across narrow drainage channels, desert pavements and hills located within 5 km of the dyke. Survey transects also crossed neighbouring dykes and adjacent landscape units with a 25 x 20 km area. Our surveys at Saffaqah have led to the discovery of 14 new Acheulean sites. Initial lithic analyses reveal differences between sites in terms of typology, but further work on the assemblages is required to determine if these differences are behavioural or a product of post depositional processes. A broad regional survey was undertaken to identify the full extent of Acheulean activity around Dawadmi. This led to the discovery of a further 22 sites. There is a strong correspondence between Acheulean sites and fine-grained andesite dykes, which were major lithic raw material sources. No Acheulean sites in the study area were found away from dykes or their adjacent landscape units. Based on dyke distributions, the geographic range of Acheulean activity is estimated to be 100 x 55 km, making Dawadmi one of the largest Acheulean landscapes in the world.