Al-Ansab and the Dead Sea: Mid-MIS 3 archaeology and environment of the early Ahmarian population of the Levantine corridor

Jurgen Richter, Thomas Litt, Frank Lehmkuhl, Andreas Hense, Thomas C. Hauck, Dirk F. Leder, Andrea Miebach, Hannah Parow-Souchon, Florian Sauer, Jonathan Schoenenberg, Maysoon Al-Nahar, Shumon T. Hussain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Our field data from the Upper Palaeolithic site of Al-Ansab 1 (Jordan) and from a pollen sequence in the Dead Sea elucidate the role that changing Steppe landscapes played in facilitating anatomically modern human populations to enter a major expansion and consolidation phase, known as the "Early Ahmarian", several millennia subsequent to their initial Marine Isotope Stage 4/3 migration from Africa, into the Middle East. The Early Ahmarian techno-cultural unit covers a time range between 45 ka-37 ka BP. With so far more than 50 sites found, the Early Ahmarian is the first fully Upper Palaeolithic techno-cultural unit exclusively and undisputedly related to anatomically modern human populations. In order to better understand the potentially attractive features of the Early Ahmarian environmental context that supported its persistence for over 8,000 years, we carried out a decennial research program in Jordan and in the Dead Sea. This included (1) a geoscientific and archaeological survey program in the Wadi Sabra (Jordan) with a particular focus on excavations at the Early Ahmarian site of Al-Ansab 1 alongside the detailed analysis of Quaternary sediments from the same area and (2) palaeobotanical research based on Quaternary lake deposits from the Dead Sea. Our pollen data from the Dead Sea indicate slow, low frequency vegetational variation with expanding Artemisia steppe, from 60 to 20 ka BP (MIS 3-2). Here, we see a reciprocal assimilation of southern and northern Levantine vegetation zones thereby enhancing a long-lasting south-to-north steppe corridor. The same integration process accelerated about 40 ka ago, when forested areas retreated in the Lebanese Mountains. The process then extended to encompass an area from Southern Lebanon to the Sinai Peninsula. We argue that, at the same time, the carriers of the Early Ahmarian techno-cultural unit extended their habitat from their original Mediterranean biome (in the North) to the Saharo-Arabian biome (to the South). Our excavation of Al-Ansab 1, a campsite at the eastern margins of the Early Ahmarian settlement area, indicates far reaching annual movements of small, highly mobile hunter-gatherer groups. We assume a low degree of settlement complexity, still allowing for habitat extension of the Early Ahmarian into the margins of the Levantine corridor. Due to our radiometric dates, our combined archaeological and environmental record sheds light on an evolved phase of the Early Ahmarian, around 38 ka ago, rather than the starting phase of this techno-cultural unit. Possible application of our model to the starting phase of the Early Ahmarian remains an aspect of future research.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0239968
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10 October
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Al-Ansab and the Dead Sea: Mid-MIS 3 archaeology and environment of the early Ahmarian population of the Levantine corridor'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this