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The Red Sea, Coastal Landscapes, and Hominin Dispersals

By G. Bailey

Abstract

This chapter provides a critical assessment of environment, landscape and resources in the Red Sea region over the past five million years in relation to archaeological evidence of hominin settlement, and of current hypotheses about the role of the region as a pathway or obstacle to population dispersals between Africa and Asia and the possible significance of coastal colonization. The discussion assesses the impact of factors such as topography and the distribution of resources on land and on the seacoast, taking account of geographical variation and changes in geology, sea levels and palaeoclimate. The merits of northern and southern routes of movement at either end of the Red Sea are compared. All the evidence indicates that there has been no land connection at the southern end since the beginning of the Pliocene period, but that short sea crossings would have been possible at lowest sea-level stands with little or no technical aids. More important than the possibilities of crossing the southern channel is the nature of the resources available in the adjacent coastal zones. There were many climatic episodes wetter than today, and during these periods water draining from the Arabian escarpment provided productive conditions for large mammals and human populations in coastal regions and eastwards into the desert. During drier episodes the coastal region would have provided important refugia both in upland areas and on the emerged shelves exposed by lowered sea level, especially in the southern sector and on both sides of the Red Sea. Marine resources may have offered an added advantage in coastal areas, but evidence for their exploitation is very limited, and their role has been over-exaggerated in hypotheses of coastal colonization

Publisher: Springer
Year: 2009
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.whiterose.ac.uk:10261

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