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London, 20/11/2014

MBI Al Jaber Lecture Series: ‘Greening of Arabia: Water, Fossils and Early Peoples’ by Professor Michael Petraglia

Professor Michael Petraglia, Co-Director of the Centre for Asian Archaeology, Art & Culture, University of Oxford & Senior Research Fellow of Linacre College Oxford, presented the second lecture of the MBI Al Jaber Lecture Series at the MBI Al Jaber Seminar Room on 20th November 2014. The fascinating lecture attracted a diverse audience and was followed by an interesting and lively discussion.

Michael Petraglia returned from excavations in Saudi Arabia the day before giving the lecture and discussed ‘hot off the press’ research on the ‘Greening of Arabia: Water, Fossils and Early Peoples’, part of his team’s exciting Palaeodeserts Project. He used the three main headings listed in the title … ‘Water, Fossils and Early Peoples’ to present their research findings:

There have been major fluctuations in water levels in Arabia throughout prehistory and the more recent past. There is evidence of the existence of several large lakes, e.g. the Nefud Desert, which resulted in the greening of the region. Overall, circa 10,000 lakes have been identified and studies of the snails found at these sites suggest that they contained freshwater. Populations of humans and animals are likely to have moved from lake to lake seeking water and other resources. Evidence of these ancient lakes can now be found beneath the sand dunes.

The movement of apes and monkeys, circa 8 million years ago, travelling across Arabia as part of their movement ‘out of Africa’, has been traced by Michael and his Palaeodeserts team. Well-preserved fossils have been discovered in the lake deposits including those of an extinct type of elephant circa 4.5 metres high. Fossils of other animal types - ibex, early horse, oryx, turtle, hippos and huge fish, have also been discovered - all requiring a great deal of water and vegetation to survive. These animals were part of the ‘African dispersal’ taking place some 50,000 years ago

Michael and his team are also finding evidence for early human populations, e.g. Homo Erectus, travelling widely across Arabia some 400,000 years ago! Homo Sapiens sites, e.g. at Nefud, dating to 211,000 years ago, have also been identified while later Middle Palaeolithic sites dating to 100,000 – 55,000 years ago have been discovered, complete with tools in stratified sites, next to lakes with drinkable water.

The Palaeodeserts project covers a broad spectrum of academic subjects including geology, archaeology, palaeontology, rock art and environmental studies. We wish Michael and his team every success with their future excavations!

The lecture is available to watch on our YouTube channel


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