Monday, August 13, 2012

Gulf Oasis Theory Pops Up Again

Residing in Saudi Arabia for several years as the US Embassy's Political Officer, I read everything I could about the archeology and history of the Gulf region. It was actually part of my job to research the political and economic antecedents of the modern Arabian Peninsula I saw around me.

In the course of my readings, I found a book Dilmun which was the ancient name for Bahrain and legendarily the Garden of Eden mentioned in the famous Gilgamish Epic. The Dilmun legend hypothesizes that after the retreat of the glaciers, the Persian Gulf drowned the mouth of the Euphrates River and only Bahrain/Dilmun remained above the waterline. The flip side of this conjecture is that the current sea bottom of the Gulf was once a fertile valley between two relatively arid hinterlands, although theories about what the Peninsula climate was all about back 5-6kya are myriad. Another variation of this theory, which gives it some shred of cred, is that the Sumerians famously called themselves the People of the Sea, meaning that they came from the Sea, or Persian Gulf, which could mean sailing from somewhere far away or merely migrating from the submerging landscape slowly being covered by water. In any event, here is the abstract linked above from Dienekes Blog about an analogous interpretation of roughly the same set of facts published in Current Anthropology:
The emerging picture of prehistoric Arabia suggests that early modern humans were able to survive periodic hyperarid oscillations by contracting into environmental refugia around the coastal margins of the peninsula. This paper reviews new paleoenvironmental, archaeological, and genetic evidence from the Arabian Peninsula and southern Iran to explore the possibility of a demographic refugium dubbed the “Gulf Oasis,” which is posited to have been a vitally significant zone for populations residing in southwest Asia during the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene. These data are used to assess the role of this large oasis, which, before being submerged beneath the waters of the Indian Ocean, was well watered by the Tigris, Euphrates, Karun, and Wadi Batin rivers as well as subterranean aquifers flowing beneath the Arabian subcontinent. Inverse to the amount of annual precipitation falling across the interior, reduced sea levels periodically exposed large portions of the Arabo-Persian Gulf, equal at times to the size of Great Britain. Therefore, when the hinterlands were desiccated, populations could have contracted into the Gulf Oasis to exploit its freshwater springs and rivers. This dynamic relationship between environmental amelioration/desiccation and marine transgression/regression is thought to have driven demographic exchange into and out of this zone over the course of the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene, as well as having played an important role in shaping the cultural evolution of local human populations during that interval.

There are about 40,000 beehive tombs of great antiquity on Bahrain unexcavated to this day, for religious reasons. Read the link at the top of this post to get a longer explanation.

If you're ambitious, take a gander at more, feel free.

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