Journal Article

Orbital-scale climate variability in Arabia as a potential motor for human dispersals


The Arabian Peninsula is situated at an important crossroads for the movement of Pleistocene human populations out of, and into, Africa. Although the timings, routes and frequencies of such dispersals have not yet been confirmed by genetic, fossil or archaeological evidence, expansion into Arabia would have been facilitated by humid periods driven by incursions of monsoon rainfall, potentially from both Indian Ocean and African monsoon systems. Here we synthesise terrestrial and marine core palaeoclimatic data in order to establish the spatial and temporal variability of humid periods in Arabia between late Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 7 and 3. Incursions of monsoon rainfall occurred during periods of insolation maxima at ca. 200–190, 170, 155, 130–120, 105–95, 85–75 and 60–55 ka, providing multiple ‘windows’ of favourable climatic conditions that could have facilitated demographic expansion through Arabia. Strong summer monsoons are generally associated with mid-high latitude interglacials, however, enhanced monsoon convection also brought rainfall into Arabia during global glacial phases, possibly due to a strengthened winter monsoon and a greater influence of southern hemispheric temperature changes. Key periods for dispersal into northern regions of Arabia correspond with the synchronous intensification of both eastern Mediterranean and monsoon rainfall systems at insolation maxima during MIS 7 and MIS 5, which may have facilitated demographic connectivity between the Levant and the Arabian interior. Environmental conditions throughout southern and southeast regions were also favourable to expansion during these times, although strong monsoons in these regions during MIS 6 and MIS 3 suggest further opportunities for demographic expansion and exchange. Terrestrial and marine evidence show that during early MIS 3 (ca. 60–50 ka), a strengthened monsoon led to the activation of interior drainage systems and increased productivity in coastal zones, indicating that favourable environmental conditions existed along both coastal and interior routes at that time.

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Parton, Ash
White, Tom
Parker, Adrian
Breeze, Paul
Jennings, Richard
Groucutt, Huw
Petraglia, Michael

Oxford Brookes departments

Department of Social Sciences
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences


Year of publication: 2015
Date of RADAR deposit: 2020-10-26

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

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This RADAR resource is the Accepted Manuscript of Orbital-scale climate variability in Arabia as a potential motor for human dispersals