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  • Sheryll Mericido

Heritage Commission and MPI unveil groundbreaking discovery near Jabal Irf

Riyadh, October 5, 2023, In a collaborative effort between the Heritage Commission and the renowned Max Planck Institute (MPI) of Geoanthropology in Germany, a groundbreaking archaeological discovery has been unveiled near Jabal Irf in the Hail region. This remarkable find, which sheds light on the prehistoric era, has been documented in an article featured in the esteemed PLOS ONE magazine.

A diverse scientific team comprising experts from Saudi Arabia, Australia, the United Kingdom, Italy, and the United States, specializing in various facets of prehistoric research, is presently engaged in an extensive examination of archaeological artifacts spanning the Neolithic period. Jabal Irf, situated within the Jubbah Oasis in the northern vicinity of Hail and to the south of the Nafud Desert, serves as the backdrop for this extraordinary revelation.

Through a combination of archaeological evidence and comprehensive laboratory and comparative analyses, the site's Neolithic origins have been firmly established. This site not only offers a distinctive natural landscape from the Neolithic era but also contains tangible traces of human settlement and seasonal activities during the middle and late Holocene era.

Radiocarbon (C14) dating conducted in laboratories has pinpointed the zenith of human habitation at this location to be during the sixth and early fifth millennia BC. Intriguingly, excavations have uncovered stone pestles and mills, which were still in use despite being broken due to heavy use. Many of these were discovered inside fire stoves, concealed beneath small stones and fragments of the damaged pestles. Microscopic examinations have unveiled that these implements were employed in the preparation of plants and the grinding of bones, shedding light on the dietary habits and practices of the people of that era.

Moreover, the study of these stone mills has unveiled insights into the dietary habits and economic activities of Neolithic inhabitants, providing valuable hints of a transition from hunting to food production using available resources. These rudimentary stone mills played a crucial role in preparing plants for consumption and extracting marrow from animal bones, a significant food source in the Neolithic period, when various species of wildlife such as cows, deer, sheep, oryx, goats, and ostriches roamed the Arabian Peninsula, serving as a primary food source for early humans.

Intriguingly, these grinding tools also contributed to the production of pigments for artistic purposes. They are a defining characteristic of the vibrant rock art that was prevalent in the northern Arabian Peninsula during the Neolithic era, potentially serving dual roles as cosmetic materials.

The enduring use of stone grinders underscores their significance in the daily lives of human societies in the Arabian Peninsula. Ethno-archaeological studies have revealed their presence in contemporary rural villages reliant on agriculture as their primary food source.

These remarkable discoveries illuminate hitherto unknown aspects of prehistoric human activity that predate the advent of written records and recorded history. They offer valuable insights into human adaptation to the region and the utilization of available environmental resources. Furthermore, they provide glimpses into the artistic expressions of ancient individuals and communities across various prehistoric periods, exemplifying their lifestyles and livelihoods.

This momentous find is part of the ongoing efforts of the Heritage Commission to conduct archaeological surveys and excavations, contributing to the continuous stream of discoveries and scientific studies of national archaeological sites throughout the Kingdom. These invaluable cultural and economic resources are integral to the realization of Saudi Vision 2030's ambitious goals for the advancement of culture and heritage.

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