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Remote sensing data shows impact of sea level on Gulf

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Courtney Caine
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« on: April 15, 2010, 03:46:57 am »

Remote sensing data shows impact of sea level on Gulf

By Fran Gillespie/Doha

Dr Richard Cuttler (right) excavating a 7,500-year-old house on Marawah Island, Abu Dhabi
Members of the Qatar Natural History Group went on a trip into the remote past on Wednesday evening. Dr Richard Cuttler, director of a team of archaeologists from the University of Birmingham, UK, now working with the Qatar Museums Authority on a project using remote sensing data, demonstrated how much the Gulf region has changed since early man first came into the area, and its impact on human life.
Cuttler said the earliest migrations from Africa took place around 115,000 and 85,000 years ago, and that Qatar was central to the second of these, as hunter gatherers moved gradually across what is now the Gulf region and into Arabia.
Changes in sea level and the impact that this has had on human occupation patterns only began to be understood around a century ago, said the speaker, when Clement Reid, a British geologist and paleobotanist, discovered submerged forests under the North Sea. In 1930 a harpoon was dredged up by a trawler which proved to be 14,000 years old, indicating that land that now lies deep under the ocean had once been dry terrain.
Here in the Gulf region, at the time of the last Ice Age so much water was locked up in the ice sheets that what is now the peninsula of Qatar was part of a vast plain stretching to Iran, broken by two large fresh-water lakes known as the central and western basins. The plain was watered by ancient rivers whose courses have been mapped by the team using remote sensing equipment. Around 12,000 years ago it is thought that the central basin flooded with sea water, followed a couple of thousand years later by the western basin, and what we now know as the Arabian Gulf was formed.
When in the 1930s the first archaeologists began working on the Arabian peninsula they found concentrations of stone age tools in areas that are now uninhabitable. They realised that only climate change could account for this. Rock carvings in remote, arid areas of the Sahara desert which depicted trees, and animals such as giraffes and crocodiles, showed how great the change had been.
The Stone Age cultures of Qatar were first mapped by the Danish archaeologist Holger Kapel, who attempted a chronology which was not fully accepted by the French archaeologists who came to Qatar in the 1970s. Some sites had been occupied, abandoned and re-occupied over a period of 30,000 50,000 years, making dating far from simple. Two very different types of flint technology were identified in Qatar, said Dr Cuttler.
The archaeologists are using geophysical data to create three-dimensional images of former landscapes in the Gulf. Out at sea they take core samples from the sea bed, which yield a wealth of data. Carbon dating can be obtained, and pollen counts give clues as to what plants were flourishing in the region many thousands of years ago, which is an indication of climate.
This mass of information from both sea and land will all form part of the Qatar National Historic Environment Record. Qatar is pioneering this kind of advanced research, and when it is complete every archaeological and cultural site, both on land and under water, will be recorded. Even the maskar, the traditional stone fish traps found all around the coastline, are meticulously photographed and mapped. This is vital, said Dr Cuttler, when the country is developing so rapidly and new buildings and infrastructure, especially along the coast, will obliterate many ancient sites. In this way every site can be researched and recorded before the area is developed.
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