Jeffrey Rose and colleagues gift us with a beautifully written and delightfully detailed open access study on a culture of the Middle Paleolithic of Arabia: the Nubian techno-complex of Dhofar:
Jeffrey I. Rose et al., The Nubian Complex of Dhofar, Oman: An African Middle Stone Age Industry in Southern Arabia. PLoS ONE 2011. Open access.
I strongly recommend reading this paper in full: it really deserves your attention.
The Nubian Complex: extension and origins
The Nubian techno-complex is a facies of the pan-African Middle Stone Age macro-culture (MSA for short), which is roughly equivalent in timeline to the Middle Paleolithic of Europe (and, as techno-culture, to Mousterian in this other context). A facies that is mostly concentrated in North Sudan and Upper Egypt (with the occasional Ethiopian site) and, now we get to know, in Dhofar (Oman).
|Fig. 1 Nubian Complex occurrences|
Late Nubian Complex assemblages have been found in stratigraphic succession overlying early Nubian Complex horizons at Sodmein Cave  and Taramsa Hill 1  in Egypt; in both cases separated by a chronological hiatus. The early Nubian Complex roughly corresponds to early MIS 5, while numerical ages for the late Nubian Complex in northeast Africa fall in the latter half of MIS 5.
For the time being, the apparent distribution of Nubian Levallois technology in Arabia is limited to the Nejd plateau and, perhaps, Hadramaut valley (Fig. 1). Archaeological surveys in central/northern Oman have not produced any evidence of Nubian Complex occupation , , nor have Nubian Complex occurrences yet been found in eastern , –, central, or northern Arabia –.
|Fig. 10 Dhofar Nubian Complex' points|
Note that the authors' concept of Nedj plateau does not correspond with that of Wikipedia, as they are obviously talking of the sites in highland Dhofar and not anywhere in Saudi Arabia (see map below).
The authors express their expectation that eventually other sites will be found within drainage systems along the western coast and hinterlands of central Arabia, linking Nubia with South Arabia. However it is also possible, I'd say, that the actual link is via the Horn of Africa, specially as Arabia has been quite extensively combed in recent years.
The Nubian techno-complex in Sudan appears to have evolved locally:
Taking into account its distinct, regionally-specific characteristics, Marks  notes that the Nubian Complex has no exogenous source and, therefore, probably derives from a local Nilotic tradition rooted in the late Middle Pleistocene (~200–128 ka). This supposition is supported by the early Nubian Complex assemblage at Sai Island, northern Sudan, which overlies a Lupemban occupation layer dated to between ~180 and 150 ka.
The oldest known Lupemban culture is dated to c. 300 Ka ago in Kenya and Tanzania.
The authors reject the presence of Nubian Complex tools claimed in the past for the Levant (Levantine Mousterian) and Persian Gulf (Jebel Barakah).
Previously to this work:
The first hint of the Nubian Complex extending into southern Arabia was documented by Inizan and Ortlieb , who illustrate three cores from Wadi Muqqah in western Hadramaut, Yemen, with Nubian Type 1 and Type 2 technological features. More recently, Crassard  presents a handful of Levallois point cores exhibiting Nubian Type 1 preparation from Wadi Wa'shah, central Hadramaut, Yemen.
Time frame and ecology: the wet MIS 5
The chronological reference of Marine Isotope Stage 5, time frame of the Nubian Complex, corresponds to a warm period between c. 130 and 74 thousand years ago, and corresponds very roughly with the Abbassia Pluvial, when the arid region of the Sahara and Arabia was quite more welcoming.
|Fig. 3 Dhofar ecological zones and place names mentioned in text.|
MIS 5 is divided in the following substages (figures are Ka ago and may vary a bit depending on source):
- MIS 5a - 84-74 (wet)
- MIS 5b - 92-84 (?)
- MIS 5c - 105-92 (wet)
- MIS 5d - 115-105 (?)
- MIS 5e - 130-115 (very wet and warm: Eemian interglacial)
MIS 5 was followed by MIS 4, a cold and dry period triggered by the Toba caldera explosion (supervolcano).
In what regards to Dhofar:
... the monsoon increased in intensity during three intervals within MIS 5. Among these humid episodes, the last interglacial (sub-stage 5e; 128–120 ka) appears to represent the most significant wet phase within the entire Late Pleistocene, with rainfall surpassing all subsequent pluvials , . Later, less substantial humid episodes associated with sub-stages 5c (110–100 ka) and 5a (90–74 ka) are also attested to in the palaeoenvironmental record. Uncertainties remain concerning the extent to which the climate deteriorated in the intervening sub-stages 5d (120–110 ka) and 5b (100–90 ka).
The increased humidity provided water security to all the region and is also correlated with plant and animal migration from Africa, what the authors think should almost forcibly make humans participant in this overall biological outpouring.
Out of Africa: the alternative routes
|Dhofar mountains in monsoon season|
They acknowledge the conceptual debt to population genetics for unveiling the probable Arabian route Out of Africa, with particular mention to Behar 2008, who points to the possibility (that I have re-elaborated myself on my own means but on his data) of mtDNA L3'4'6 (and I'd say also L0) having left very indicative remnants in Arabia Peninsula. However they make unnecessary conceptual contortions in order to adapt archaeological knowledge to the molecular clock pseudo-science when it must be the other way around, if anything. No need.
In any case, and this is very important, they describe two different cultural groups in interglacial Arabia:
... we surmise that at least two technologically (hence culturally) differentiated groups were present at this time: Nubian Levallois in southern Arabia and centripetal preferential Levallois with bifacial tools in northern/eastern Arabia.
They also suggest that, after the arid MIS 4 parenthesis, South Arabia experienced another mildly wet period with the MIS 3 (since c. 60 Ka ago), which would have enabled:
... north-south demographic exchange between ~60–50 ka. South Arabian populations may have spread to the north at this time, taking with them a Nubian-derived Levallois technology based on elongated point production struck from bidirectional Levallois cores, which is notably the hallmark of the Middle-Upper Palaeolithic transition in the Levant , .
But the whole Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea area, not to mention East Asia, remains to be fit in (archaeologically speaking) if we are to understand this period's colonization of West Asia from the East (according to the genetic data).
In this blog:
- Some key archaeological papers on the 'coastal route' (on Fields 2007, Bailey 2009 and Rose 2010)
- Coastal route through Arabia 130,000 years ago confirmed? (on Armitage 2011)
- Middle Paleolithic of Nefud (Arabia) (on Petraglia 2011)
- The various options for the migration out of Africa (a review of all the former)
In external sites:
- R.C. Walter 2000, Early human occupation of the Red Sea coast of Eritrea during the last interglacial (Nature - ppv)
- P. van Peer 2003, The Early to Middle Stone Age Transition and the Emergence of Modern Human Behaviour at site 8-B-11, Sai Island, Sudan (PDF)
- Ghanim Wahida 2009, A Middle Paleolithic Assemblage from Jebel Barakah, Coastal Abu Dhabi Emirate (PDF)
- M. Petraglia 2010, Out of Africa: new hypothesis and evidence for the dispersal of Homo sapiens along the Indian Ocean rim (scribd)
Update (Jan 11): I have received a copy of a related paper dealing with the relations of Hadramaut tools in the context of global Levallois technique. It is however too technical and inconclusive for me to discuss separately. Yet I do not see it being published anywhere online (PPV or open source or whatever), so I am just uploading it online (for a year) so you can download and read it yourself: