06:53 GMT25 October 2020
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    Researchers have announced the discovery of ancient human and animal footprints dating back more than 120,000 years in the Nefud Desert in northern Saudi Arabia.

    According to AFP, the footprints were found at a location that was once a lake in what is now known as the Nefud Desert, a place which was an important gateway between Africa and Eurasia more than 100,000 years ago. 

    ​Mathew Stewart of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, who was involved in the study, told AFP that the footprints were found during 2017 field work following the erosion of overlying sediments at the lake site.

    The footprints were dated using a technique called optical stimulated luminescence, which involves shining light at quartz grains and then measuring the amount of light emitted from them.

    "Footprints are a unique form of fossil evidence in that they provide snapshots in time, typically representing a few hours or days, a resolution we tend not to get from other records," Stewart explained.

    Seven out of the hundreds of prints found are believed to have been by anatomically modern humans rather than Neanderthals. In addition to human footprints, researchers also found 233 fossils and 369 animal footprints, including 44 elephant footprints and 107 camel footprints, suggesting that the lake was a popular watering hole.

    "We know that humans were visiting this lake at the same time these animals were, and, unusually for the area, there's no stone tools," Stewart explains.

    "It appears that these people were visiting the lake for water resources and just to forage at the same time as the animals," he added.

    The presence of the elephant footprints suggests there were freshwater resources and greenery around the lake and that the Arabian Peninsula was not always characterized by arid deserts.

    "The presence of large animals such as elephants and hippos, together with open grasslands and large water resources, may have made northern Arabia a particularly attractive place to humans moving between Africa and Eurasia," Michael Petraglia of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, who was also involved in the research, told AFP.

    The research was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, according to AFP.

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