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Beyond the margins: local adaptation and inter-regional contact in the Neolithic of northern Saudi-Arabia


Institut für Geographische Wissenschaften
Fachrichtung Physische Geographie

[Projektleitung verlinken]

Dahlem Research School

Maria Guagnin

The Beyond the Margins project aims to investigate the economic transition from hunting to herding in Saudi Arabia in the 7th millennium BC. While the emergence of farming in the Levant and the Fertile Crescent has been intensively researched since the 1950s, the archaeology of Northern Arabia remains largely unknown. The project will use excavation and scientific analysis to identify the role climatic change, population movements and exchange of ideas played in the introduction of livestock in Arabia, and identify adaptation strategies to the marginal environment of the Nefud desert.

The location of Jubbah, an oasis on the southern edge of the Nefud desert, provides an ideal setting to establish the extent to which the Neolithisation process in northern Saudi Arabia was driven by local developments or migration of Levantine herders. The project investigates evidence for local subsistence strategies at two multi-period occupation sites at the edge of a palaeolake, using archaeozoological and archaeobotanical analyses. Surveys of the surrounding landscape allow a reconstruction of changing settlement patterns across the early Holocene, which can be linked to environmental records of the local palaeolake. Moreover, interregional contact will be explored through detailed analyses of the recovered material culture, particularly stone tools, shell beads, pottery, as well as rock art. Fieldwork will also target Neolithic stone structures and burial cairns with the aim of using ancient DNA and isotope analysis to help identify mobility patterns.


Guagnin, M., Shipton, C., el-Dossary, S., al-Rashid, M., Moussa, F., Stewart, M., Ott, F., Alsharekh, A., Petraglia, M.D. Rock art provides new evidence on the biogeography of kudu (Tragelaphus imberbis), wild dromedary, aurochs (Bos primigenius) and African wild ass (Equus africanus) in the early and middle Holocene of north-western Arabia. Journal of Biogeography. DOI: 10.1111/jbi.13165

Guagnin, M.,
Perri, A., Petraglia, D. Earliest evidence for dog-assisted hunting strategies in Arabia. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaa.2017.10.003

Guagnin, M., Shipton, C., al-Rashid, M., Moussa, F., El-Dossary, S., Bin Sleimah, M., Alsharekh, A., Petraglia, M. An Illustrated Prehistory of the Jubbah Oasis: Reconstructing Holocene Occupation Patterns in Northwestern Saudi Arabia from Rock Art and Inscriptions. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 28: 138–152. https://doi.org/10.1111/aae.12089

Guagnin, M., Shipton, C., Martin, L., Petraglia, M. The Neolithic site of Jebel Oraf 2, northern Saudi Arabia: First report of a directly dated site with faunal remains. Archaeological Research in Asia. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ara.2017.02.001

Guagnin, M., Jennings, R., Eager, H., Parton, A., Stimpson, C., Groucutt, H., Drake, N., Pfeiffer, M., Stepanek, C., Alsharekh, A., Petraglia, M. Rock art imagery as a proxy for Holocene environmental change: a view from Shuwaymis, NW Saudi Arabia. The Holocene 26(11): 1822-1834. DOI 10.1177/0959683616645949

Guagnin, M.,
Jennings, R.P., Clark-Balzan, L., Groucutt, H.S., Parton, A., Petraglia, M. Hunters and herders: Exploring the Neolithic transition in the rock art of Shuwaymis, Saudi Arabia. Archaeological Research in Asia 4, 3-16.

View across a Neolithic hearth site. The palaeolake basin is visible in the background.

All contexts are sieved meticulously to recover macrobotanic remains.

Rock art behind a Neolithic occupation site.

A cluster of boulders forming a small shelter where Neolithic hearths were excavated.
The palaeolake and a small garden are visible in the background