The Archaeology of Pleistocene Coastal Environments and Human Dispersals in the Red Sea: Insights from the Farasan Islands

Geoff Bailey, Matthew Meredith-Williams, Abdullah Alsharekh, Niklas Hausmann

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This chapter examines the different sources of evidence – phylogenetic, palaeoclimatic and archaeological – that have been used to investigate the hypothesis that early human dispersals from Africa during the late Pleistocene were facilitated by exploitation of marine resources and seafaring abilities and followed a predominantly coastal route including a crossing of the southern end of the Red Sea. We examine critically the current evidence and arguments for and against such a hypothesis and highlight the need for a more sophisticated understanding of the taphonomic factors that determine the formation, preservation and distribution of coastal archaeological deposits such as shell mounds. We present new data on the mid-Holocene shell mounds of the Farasan Islands and examine their spatial and temporal distribution in relation to a coastal environment that has been subject to rapid changes of sea level, geomorphology and ecological potential. We demonstrate that substantial shell mound deposits can accumulate rapidly over a matter of decades, even in a dynamic shoreline environment undergoing changes in relative sea level, that the ecological conditions that provide an abundant supply of marine molluscs as food are highly episodic in time and space, and that the resulting archaeological record is extremely patchy. We highlight the problem of dealing with negative evidence in the archaeological record and the need for a more detailed investigation and understanding of the various factors that determine the survival and visibility of archaeological deposits.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGeological Setting, Palaeoenvironment and Archaeology of the Red Sea
EditorsNajeeb Rasul, Ian Stewart
Place of PublicationCham, Switzerland
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9783319994086
ISBN (Print)9783319994079
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jan 2019


  • Coastlines
  • Shell mounds
  • Hominin dispersal
  • Marine molluscs
  • Taphonomy

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