Early Late Pleistocene environments in Northeast Africa and their relevance for Anatomically Modern Human dispersal


The history of humanity and the occupation of humans of the entire earth is a major scientific topic in various research disciplines, but also a subject of broad interest for the society. Thereby, research on the migration of Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) has arisen in various specialised sub-disciplines of natural sciences (e.g. physical geography, geology, palaeoclimatology, etc.), but also in social sciences (e.g. archaeology, anthropology, ethnology, etc.). The complexity of the subjects involved has both opportunities and challenges, but only the integration of natural and social sciences comprises the ability to answer questions about the natural and cultural context for the spread of our species. One of the important research questions that still exist is the dispersal of AMH in Northeast Africa into the southern Levant and Southwest Asia. On the one hand, this region provides the only full terrestrial migration route Out of Africa that exists since the first appearance of AMH. On the other hand, it is part of the Saharo-Arabian Desert belt, where human occupation was mostly limited due to hyper-arid climate conditions. Therefore, the identification of palaeoenvironmental changes throughout the Late Pleistocene are crucial, as they provide the possibility for humans to occupy and disperse in this region when climate conditions were more favourable. One important aspect of this study is the discussion of all results not only from a geoscientific perspective, but also within the ambiguity of other research disciplines involved. It is identified, that perspectives about spatial and temporal scale strongly differ between archaeology and geoscience and need to be overcome. Only an integrative approach accomplish for a better understanding of past human-environment interactions with their relevance for AMH dispersal, as it is a prime example where scale issues are very relevant. A proposed schema for a more precise consideration for spatial scales is given, based on the classification of different relief types, which sizes are integrated into research topics in archaeology. Even though, the spatial scale of daily activities, mobility pattern and large scale dispersal of humans are far from being define, the schema helps within interdisciplinary research as common language and to bridge different perspective about what are large and small scales. The main importance of scale related issues is also reflected by the investigated study areas. The integration of field-based research at Gebel Duwi in the Eastern Desert and the analyses of a GIS-based reconstruction of the environment in Egypt aim together to give new insights into possible windows of opportunities for AMH dispersal in Northeast Africa. The synthesis of a PalaeoMap for Egypt during the Last Interglacial identifies several regional differences based on the analyses of climate data, ecozones, relief types, drainage systems, and surface geology with focus on raw material bearing formations. There exist no environmental limitations for human occupation over almost all regions in Egypt during the Last Interglacial in general. Regional ecozones are mapped with the semi-quantitative integration of modern analogues with annual precipitation and Köppen-Geiger climate during the Last Interglacial. They point to a high regional variability in Egypt. In addition, abiotic parameter like geology and topography fabricate a more sophisticated characterisation of possible difference landscapes in Egypt where humans were influenced. The Western Desert has a more limited access to flint and chert bearing strata as important raw material for hunter-gatherers in comparison to the Eastern Desert and the Sinai Peninsula. The data compilation highlights, that the understanding of environmental factors influencing human behaviour is better achieved with a cumulative approach of parameters, although it has more uncertainties in comparison to highlight one detailed investigated parameter. It avoids an one-way interpretation, where only one parameter, even though more detailed, is seen as the main trigger for human dispersal. The investigations from the area at Gebel Duwi provide new results for palaeoenvironmental changes and wetter climate during the Last Interglacial and Holocene. The sediment stratigraphy of Sodmein Playa indicates enhanced climate conditions at around 9 and 7.5 ka, which correlates with human occupation at Sodmein Cave during wetter climate phases of the Holocene. The dating of speleothem deposits at Saquia Cave show the presence of more humid climate conditions during MIS 5 and provide an important new climate archive in the Eastern Desert, but also for the Saharo-Arabian-Desert in general. All phases can be linked to the so far known times of human occupation at the nearby Sodmein Cave during this time. The fact that speleothem growth phases occur over all substages of MIS 5, not only during times of high insolation and a congruent northward migration of the monsoon, but also during phases of low insolation, indicates the significance of a regional climate archive. It provides a more detailed insight into wetter climate phases, as they can be derived from large scale proxy records as for example marine records or climate modelling. Several possible sources of enhanced rainfall in the Eastern Desert are discussed, where the proximity to the Red Sea and orographic rainfall in the Red Sea Mountains lead to regional differences and might trigger a more humid corridor in the Eastern Desert in comparison to other regions in Egypt. The observations noted by field investigations for the correlation between the importance of regions with wadis draining flint and chert bearing geological strata is mapped with the given data at larger scale. It exemplifies the up- and downscaling of parameters in scale. The importance of the Eastern Desert as possible migration corridor is derived from the integration of the results from the PalaeoMap, field results, and integration of the over regional context. Here, the understanding of this region is still insufficient, but the synthesis of all results highlights this region as one of the key area for human migration Out of Africa.


Henselowsky, F. (2019): Early Late Pleistocene environments in Northeast Africa and their relevance for Anatomically Modern Human dispersal. University of Cologne

Authors Henselowsky, Felix
Type phdthesis
Title Early Late Pleistocene environments in Northeast Africa and their relevance for Anatomically Modern Human dispersal
Year 2019
School University of Cologne
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