125,000 Year Old Hand Axes From Jebel Faya, UAE

Hans-Peter Uerpmann of the University of Tubingen has lead a team excavating the Jebel Faya site in the United Arab Emirates, right near the Straits of Hormuz. They’ve found 125,000 year old stone tools that look like early modern human tools from East Africa around the same time. They’ve published their findings in today’s Science, under the title, “The Southern Route “Out of Africa”: Evidence for an Early Expansion of Modern Humans into Arabia.”

The current understanding is what we know as anatomically modern humans (AMH) originated in Africa about 250,000 years ago. The oldest Home sapiens, known as H. sapiens idaltu, was found to be 160,000 years old, found at the Middle Awash site in Ethiopia. Then between 80k-100k years ago, modern humans began appearing in the middle east, as remains from sites like the Qafzeh cave in Israel have yielded. Most agree that AMH stayed in Africa and about 140,000 years ago they began migrating out. There was an exception, a colonization remained or failed in Israel about 100,000 years ago.

One of the hand axes from Jebel Faya, UAE
One of the hand axes from Jebel Faya, UAE (Photograph courtesy Science/AAAS)

These hand axes, pictured above, show a pattern of flaking distinct from that made by Neandertals and also dissimilar to those by ~100,000 year old Israeli tools. They are two sided and very similar to stone tools seen only in early Africa.

What this means is early humans left Africa 20,000 years earlier than thought. Just how did they do it? 130,000 years ago, there was a window of climate change. They figured this out by using luminescence dating to determine the age of sand grains buried with the stone tools. Luminescence dating is a technique that measures naturally occurring radiation stored in the sand. The data showed that 130,000 years ago, the Arabian Peninsula was relatively more warm which caused more rainfall, turning it into a series of lush habitable land. During this period the southern Red Sea’s levels dropped and was only 2.5 miles or 4 km wide. This offered a brief window of time for humans to easily cross the sea and cross the Peninsula to opposing sites like Jebel Faya.

Does this study tell us that modern humans left Africa, into Arabia and out from there? It is most certainly a possibility. However, these axes could be of an abandoned migration like the site in Israel I’ve mentioned. I say that because no genetic clade, be it from mitochondrial, Y-chromosome, or somatic genome, shows an earlier divergence of modern humans from Africa earlier than 60,000 years ago. At the very minimum a find like this tells us humans left Africa a bit sooner than we thought, but does not really tell us that these were the humans that helped seed the Eurasia.

    Armitage, S., Jasim, S., Marks, A., Parker, A., Usik, V., & Uerpmann, H. (2011). The Southern Route “Out of Africa”: Evidence for an Early Expansion of Modern Humans into Arabia Science, 331 (6016), 453-456 DOI: 10.1126/science.1199113

17 thoughts on “125,000 Year Old Hand Axes From Jebel Faya, UAE

  1. The oldest known fossil AMH is actually Omo 2, dated to c. 190 Ka. in Southern Ethiopia. Idaltu/Herto is of a later period, almost before the OoA – well, not quite but probably from after the first African divisions such as L0-A and maybe L1-B as well.

    We have now:
    – 190 Ka. Omo 2
    – 160 Ka. Idaltu and Djebel Ihroud (Morocco)
    – 120-130 Ka. Palestine (w/ Mousterian), North Africa (w/ Aterian), South Arabia (w/ MSA)…
    – 120-100 India… maybe China too
    – 100 Ka in Mozambique (food processing)
    – 90-? Again in Arabia
    – 80-present Again in India
    – 70-? in South Africa (MSA, similar to that of India but shell use similar to Mediterranean)

    But we lack skeletal fossils between c. 100 Ka and c. 70 Ka. (?) and more clearly c. 50 Ka. and later. Whatever the case no reason to get stuck anymore in the “60 Ka” date for the OoA: it is not realistic. It can be 50% or even 100% older.

    1. Normally I do not published comments like these, as I feel like they do not add to the discussion at hand. I have clearly laid out what our comment policy is on the about page, if you failed to read it Barbara.

      But I did publish your comment today because I find it ironic that I was being called out on spelling errors and you didn’t say what the errors are. How is that professional? Furthermore, if we really wanna split hairs regarding professionalism, you spelled .net wrong in the URL field of this comment box.

      Barbara, your comment is so useless and snide. I don’t understand why I’m being called out on professionalism. I never promised to be professional on this site nor did I ever promise to be a great speller. In fact, I’ll acknowledge that I am neither. I’m even worse at grammar. I am simply someone who enjoys the topic and likes to share it with others.

      I think that is very clear to all of us here that you’re a troll. I’m not name calling, but rather simply pointing out how your are inciting a flamewar. This is not appreciated on my site.

      I am open to all anyone who is critical of me. I ask in return to provide some constructive remarks so I can improve on my mistakes. If you wanna be critical and you yourself fail privy to the very thing you are harping against — then you are a hypocrite and unwelcome here.

      Hope that clears up some things,


  2. To my best knowledge, Qafezah skull is regarded as 92,000 years old.
    At the same time, you may look at the latest findings of the Qesem cave:
    Barkai, R., Lemorini, C., and Gopher,.A. 2010.Palaeolithic cutlery
    400 000–200 000 years ago: tiny meat-cutting tools from Qesem Cave,
    Israel. Antiquity 84 (325). http://www.tau.ac.il/humanities/archaeology/directory/barkay%20papers/Paleolithic%20cutlery%20Antiquity%202010.doc
    Lately identified as Homo Sap. remains which may turn the “out of Africa” theory into “Into Africa”….

  3. I know the prevailing wisdom is that humans came out of Africa, and no one would dare say otherwise for fear of criticism. But in light of the increasing evidence, wouldn’t it make sense to go back and review this idea and the original biases that were present when this concept was formulated. Time and again, I’ve seen the data interpreted to support the prevailing paradigm when there is another answer in plain view!

  4. Yep, lately I read a wonderful book: “The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey: Unearthing the Origins of Monkeys, Apes, and Humans” by Christopher Beard and Mark Klinger, proving by hard deviances that the primates, at least, started at the eastern side of the glob, i.e China.
    Every thing is still open for discussion I guess.

  5. nice blog..umm so far universities are now having a slight u-turn ,,there are more primate species from Asia , less in Africa though hominid bones are found there so out of Africa but from Asia something like that. reading these stuff is making me miss my classes.

  6. Hi,
    I would like to inform you that i have more than 10 Prehistoric Acheulian hand axes they are from jebel nafousa Libya ..
    And they are for sale ..

  7. The Persian Gulf (Arabian Gulf) has been very shallow at times, now it is only +- 100 meters/300 feet deep (breath-hold divers can dive that deep). Its plausible that people could have crossed it from any direction to anywhere at times, so crossing the Red Sea isn’t necessarily the only answer.

  8. I don’t see how the Persian Gulf, which was effectively emerged land (swampy areas but also an “oasis” in the arid periods) in the Ice Age, says anything about the Red Sea. The Red Sea was never emerged in any way in human prehistory or history, though it was a bit more narrow.

    Either our ancestors crossed the Red Sea or they went through Sinai Peninsula (and all the way up the Nile or Red Sea coasts previously) or both. There’s no other way to leave Africa for their technological level except the Strait of Gibraltar, but this one can be safely discarded.

  9. I have read that sea level averages in the GoP are 60m and its at its deepest around 90m. Whereas the Red Sea is considerably deeper.

    The English Channel is roughly 60m at its deepest and has been proven to be dry during the ice age phases; with recovery of paleolithic tools and animal bones bearing hominid butchery marks. The river Rhine then flowed through what is now the straits of Dover and held a weaving course through the English Channel, to exit into the sea at what is now called the Western Approaches.
    Lots of published research and I have some nice books on the subject – enroute to the United Arab Emirates with the rest of my possessions, in a container – so no references I’m afraid.

    I have been ‘field walking’ the desert already, in Dubai and so far only found neolithic cores and core tools (blades & microliths). The possibility of paeolithic material is exciting and has whetted my appetite to continue searching.

    Does anyone have a contact email or address for reporting and handing over finds in Dubai area ?
    I have asked at a number of government establishments and so far have drawn a blank. It would be a shame to lose this valuable data, especially as these sites will continue to be lost under development.

    Thanks – Nick

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