Desert Highways

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Archaeologists discovered that ancient humans inhabited a lava tube in modern-day Saudi Arabia for thousands of years, the first time such a geological formation has been investigated by an archaeological team in the region, Cosmos Magazine reported.

In their study, a research team wrote that they found evidence of human activity from the Neolithic period to the Bronze Age at the Umm Jirsan site.

Their findings include animal remains, human-made pottery and even rock art depicting various hoofed animals, such as sheep, goats and ibex.

The team suggested that the site was used by early pastoralist communities, noting that the lava tube acted as an important checkpoint between two oases. They also hinted that routes were also used for burials.

While they are still trying to determine the exact purpose of the routes, researchers explained that they served as important social, economic and cultural “lifeways” for Saudi’s ancient pastoralist societies.

“We put forth this hypothesis that this is … perhaps our sort of stopping off point on these pastoral migration routes,” noted lead author Mathew Stewart.

The unique formation of Umm Jirsan is located in a volcanic area of Arabia: Stretching about a mile long, it formed when lava flows cooled and solidified on the surface but later hollowed out to create long tunnels or caverns within the hardened rock.

The authors also hailed the study as integral in better understanding early societies in the arid deserts of Arabia, noting that fossil records in those areas are very scarce.

“This is in a landscape where this sort of material doesn’t tend to survive on the surface, the Holocene fossil record in Arabia is very poor,” said Stewart. “Umm Jirsan, lava tubes, (and) caves in general hold huge potential in an arid area, like Arabia, to fill in a lot of these gaps that we have in both the fossil record and the archaeological record.”

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