Southwest Arabia During the Holocene: Recent Archaeological Developments

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Recent fieldwork has considerably increased our knowledge of early Holocene settlement in Southwest Arabia. Neolithic settlement occurred within an environmental context of increased monsoonal moisture that continued during the mid-Holocene. A now well-attested Bronze Age exemplified by village- and town-scale settlements occupied by sedentary farmers developed toward the end of the mid-Holocene moist interval. The high plateau of Yemen was an early focus for the development of Bronze Age complex society, the economy of which relied upon terraced rain-fed and runoff agriculture. On the fringes of the Arabian desert, the precursors of the Sabaean literate civilization have been traced back to between 3600 and 2800 B.P., and even earlier, so that a virtually continuous archaeological record can now be described for parts of Yemen. In contrast to the highlands these societies relied upon food production from large-scale irrigation systems dependent upon capricious wadi floods. Bronze Age settlement, while showing some links with the southern Levant, now shows equal or stronger linkages with the Horn of Africa across the Red Sea. Although some regions of Yemen show breaks in occupation, others show continuity into the Sabaean period when a series of major towns grew up in response to the incense trade with the north. It is now clear that these civilizations grew up on the foundations of earlier Bronze Age complex societies.

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