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Contributors:
  1. Patricia C. Fanning
  2. Abi Stone
  3. Dan N. Barfod
  4. Hsing-Chung Chang
  5. Abdullah Alsharekh
  6. Geoff Bailey

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Description: Surface artefacts dominate the archaeological record of arid landscapes, particularly the Saharo-Arabian belt, a pivotal region in dispersals out of Africa. Discarded by hominins, these artefacts are key to understanding past landscape use and dispersals, yet behavioural interpretation of present-day artefact distributions cannot be carried out without understanding how geomorphological processes have controlled, and continue to control, artefact preservation, exposure and visibility at multiple scales. We employ a geoarchaeological approach to unravelling the formation of a surface assemblage of 2,970 Early and Middle Stone Age lithic artefacts at Wadi Dabsa, Saudi Arabia, the richest locality recorded to date in the southwestern Red Sea coastal region. Wadi Dabsa basin, within the volcanic Harrat Al Birk, contains extensive tufa deposits formed during wetter conditions. We employ regional landscape mapping and automatic classification of surface conditions using satellite imagery, field observations, local landform mapping, archaeological survey, excavation, and sedimentological analyses to develop a multi-scalar model of landscape evolution and geomorphological controls acting on artefact distributions in the basin. The main artefact assemblage is identified as a palimpsest of activity, actively forming on a deflating surface, a model with significant implications for future study and interpretation of this, and other, artefact surface assemblages.

License: CC-By Attribution 4.0 International

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