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Ancient Mideast 'oasis' theorized

Chicago -- A once fertile landmass now submerged under the Persian Gulf may have been home to some of the earliest human populations outside Africa, a U.K. scientist says.

The area in and around this "Persian Gulf Oasis" may have been host to humans for more than 100,000 years before it was swallowed up by the Indian Ocean about 8,000 years ago, archaeologist Jeffrey Rose with the University of Birmingham in England says.

Rose's hypothesis, published in the journal Current Anthropology, introduces a "new and substantial cast of characters" to the human history of the Near East, and says humans may have established permanent settlements in the region thousands of years before current migration models suggest, a release by the University of Chicago Press said Wednesday.

Archaeologists have turned up evidence of human settlements along the shores of the gulf dating to about 7,500 years ago.

"Where before there had been but a handful of scattered hunting camps, suddenly, over 60 new archaeological sites appear virtually overnight," Rose said. "These settlements boast well-built, permanent stone houses, long-distance trade networks, elaborately decorated pottery, domesticated animals, and even evidence for one of the oldest boats in the world."

But how could such highly developed settlements arise so quickly, with no precursor populations to be found in the archaeological record?

Rose believes evidence of those preceding populations is missing because it's under the gulf.

"Perhaps it is no coincidence that the founding of such remarkably well-developed communities along the shoreline corresponds with the flooding of the Persian Gulf basin around 8,000 years ago," Rose said. "These new colonists may have come from the heart of the gulf, displaced by rising water levels that plunged the once fertile landscape beneath the waters of the Indian Ocean."

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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