Unexpected technological heterogeneity in northern Arabia indicates complex Late Pleistocene demography at the gateway to Asia.
The role and significance of the Arabian Peninsula in modern human dispersals out of Africa is currently contentious. While qualitative observations of similarities between Arabian Middle Palaeolithic and African Middle Stone Age (MSA) assemblages have been made, these inferences remain untested and often situated within overly broad dichotomies (e.g., 'Africa' versus the 'Levant'), which distort concepts of geographic scale and subsume local variability. Here, we quantitatively test the hypothesis that assemblages from Jubbah, in the Nefud Desert of northern Saudi Arabia are similar to MSA industries from northeast Africa. Based on the quantitative analysis of a suite of metric and morphological data describing lithic reduction sequences, our results show that early and late core reduction at Jubbah is distinct from equivalent northeast African strategies, perhaps as a result of raw material factors. However, specific techniques of core shaping, preparation and preferential flake production at Jubbah draw from a number of methods also present in the northeast African MSA. While two Jubbah lithic assemblages (JKF-1 and JKF-12) display both similarities and differences with the northeast African assemblages, a third locality (JSM-1) was significantly different to both the other Arabian and African assemblages, indicating an unexpected diversity of assemblages in the Jubbah basin during Marine Isotope Stage 5 (MIS 5, ∼125-70,000 years ago, or ka). Along with evidence from southern Arabia and the Levant, our results add quantitative support to arguments that MIS 5 hominin demography at the interface between Africa and Asia was complex.