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CLEAR - Holocene climatic events in Northern Arabia

The Arabian Peninsula experienced tremendous climatic and environmental changes during the late Quaternary. Climate archives, such as palaeo-lakes and speleothems, indicate an early Holocene humid period and gradual aridisation since then, leading to today's hyperarid conditions in major parts of Arabia. Whereas plenty of local records are available for the southern peninsula, evidence from its northern part is scarce and not many details regarding the onset of wet conditions and their impact on the physical landscape and cultural developments are known.

The DFG funded CLEAR-project aims at exploring the unique geoarchive of the palaeolake at Tayma (NW Saudi Arabia) in detail, which has already been proven for its excellent suitability in a pilot study (Engel et al., 2012). This sediment record is especially interesting for us, because of the presence of annually laminated sediments (varves) in the part covering the early Holocene (10,000 – 8,000 years ago). Tayma is an old oasis settlement and one of the most excellent archaeological excavation sites in Arabia, and is intensively studied by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquity (SCTA) and by the Orient Department of the German Institute for Archaeology (DAI).

The high resolution multi-proxy study of lake sediments include several climate-, landscape-, and settlement-related parameters: pollen analysis, microfacies analysis of the varve structure, stable isotopes, element geochemistry, macro- and micro-fauna remains, diatoms and lipid biomarkers. We furthermore developed a robust age model by combining radiocarbon dating and varve counting. Our investigations are closely tied with the archaeological excavations and geomorphic mapping of former lake level stands. Our data together with archaeological results of the Tayma Oasis will provide answers to a several important research questions; regarding landscape changes on a local and (supra-)regional scale, the source of additional early Holocene moisture, regional environmental response to rapid climate changes, and the influence on climatic and environmental changes on settlement patterns.

Work packages

WP A - Biogeochemistry and sedimentology
Birgit Plessen, Philipp Hoelzmann, Gerd Gleixner, Achim Brauer

WP B - Micropalaeontology
Peter Frenzel, Anja Schwarz, Max Engel, Birgit Plessen

WP C - Geochronology, palynology and geoarchaeological synthesis
Max Engel, Michèle Dinies, Reinder Neef, Nicole Klasen, Harald Brückner


German Research Foundation (DFG), project identifier 266772869


Neugebauer, I., Dinies, M., Plessen, B., Dräger, N., Brauer, A., Brückner, H., Frenzel, P., Gleixner, G., Hoelzmann, P., Krahn, K. J., Pint, A., Schwab, V. F., Schwarz, A., Tjallingii, R., Engel, M. (2022): The unexpectedly short Holocene Humid Period in Northern Arabia. - Communications Earth & Environment, 3, 47. https://doi.org/10.1038/s43247-022-00368-y

Neugebauer, I., Dinies, M., Plessen, B., Dräger, N., Brauer, A., Brückner, H., Frenzel, P., Gleixner, G., Hoelzmann, P., Krahn, K., Noack, D., Pint, A., Schwab, V., Schwarz, A., Tjallingii, R., Vieth-Hillebrand, A., Engel, M. (2021): Geochemical and sedimentological data of the Tayma palaeolake record. https://doi.org/10.5880/GFZ.4.3.2021.005

Neugebauer, I., Wulf, S., Schwab, M. J., Serb, J., Plessen, B., Appelt, O., Brauer, A. (2017): Implications of S1 tephra findings in Dead Sea and Tayma palaeolake sediments for marine reservoir age estimation and palaeoclimate synchronisation. - Quaternary Science Reviews, 170, p. 269-275. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2017.06.020

Neugebauer, I., Wulf, S., Schwab, M., Serb, J., Plessen, B., Appelt, O., Brauer, A. (2017) Improved marine reservoir age estimation and palaeoclimate synchronisation of the early Holocene Levantine/NW-Arabian region based on identification of the S1 tephra in Dead Sea and Tayma palaeolake sediments. EGU 2017.

Dräger, N., Schwab, V.F., Plessen, B., Neugebauer, I., Dinies, M., Emngel, M., Brauer, A., Gleixner, G. (2017) Holocene hydrological changes and human presence in NW Arabia: Insights from lipid biomarker analysis of the Tayma palaeolake sediment record. EGU 2017.

Pint, A., Engel, M., Melzer, S., Frenzel, P., Plessen, B., Brückner, H., (2017). How to discriminate athalassic and marginal marine microfaunas? Foraminifera and other fossils from an early Holocene continental lake in northern Saudi Arabia. Journal of Foraminiferal Research 47, 175-187. https://doi.org/10.2113/gsjfr.47.2.175

Dinies, M., Neef, R., Plessen, B., Kürschner, H. (2016): Holocene vegetation in northwestern Arabia – changing natural resources. - In: Goy, J., Bessenay-Prolonge, J., Betouche, A., Decaix, A., Havé, A., Hiblot, S., Perriot, C., Pichon, F. (Eds.), Actualités des recherches archéologiques en Arabie, (Routes de l’Orient, Hors-Séries ; 2), p. 1-19.

Dinies, M., Neef, R., Plessen, B., Kürschner, H. (2016): Holocene Vegetation, Climate, Land Use and Plant Cultivation in the Tayma Region, Northwestern Arabia. - In: Luciani, M. (Ed.), The Archaeology of North Arabia, Oases and Landscapes: Proceedings of the International Congress held at the University of Vienna, 5-8 December, 2013, (Oriental and European Archaeology ; 4), Vienna : Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, p. 57-78.

Engel, M., Frenzel, P., Pint, A., Dinies, M., Gleixner, G., Hoelzmann, P., Neugebauer, I., Plessen, B., Brückner, H. (2016): Barnacles Tell no Lies – Bioclastic deposits and in-situ balanid colonies delineate shorelines of the Holocene palaeolake at Tayma (NW Saudi Arabia), (Geophysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 18, EGU2016-3974), General Assembly European Geosciences Union (Vienna, Austria 2016). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2011.04.028

Dinies, M., Plessen, B., Neef, R., Kürschner, H. (2015): When the desert was green: Grassland expansion during the early Holocene in northwestern Arabia. - Quaternary International, 382, p. 293-302. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2015.03.007

Engel M, Brückner H, Pint A, Wellbrock K, Ginau A, Voss P, Grottker M, Klasen N, Frenzel P (2012). The early Holocene humid period in NW Saudi Arabia – Sediments, microfossils and palaeo-hydrological modelling. Quaternary International (266), 131-141.

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