Lava tubes may hold clues to early humans on the move : When ancient humans pushed into the  Arabian Peninsula, they found a world marked by magma. Little is known about the lives of those humans.

But a study published last month in the journal PLOS One has revealed that their occupation of this volcanic realm extended underground.

Archaeologists at a site in Saudi Arabia have excavated a Lava tube, the subterranean remnant of a lava flow, and found stone tool fragments, animal remains and human bones, the oldest of which were close to 7,000 years old.

Early humans probably used this volcanic cave, known as Umm Jirsan, as a way station during migrations between oases, rather than as a permanent habitat.

Only small sections of Umm Jirsan have been examined, but the study shows that it and other such caves in the area hold promise for understanding the migrations of early humans.

The notion that these migrants brought animals with them is supported not just by the remnants at the site. The team discovered 16 rock art panels in the entrance to another lava tube nearby. Some show people herding cattle, sheep and goats; others depict people hunting.

The lava tubes offer a new way '' of looking through time and through space,'' said Michael Petraglia, who is director of the Australian Research Center for Human Evolution at Griffith University and an author of the new study.

Each could be an unopened window into the lives of humanity's ancestors. 

'' This cave is just the beginning,'' he said. [ Robin George Andrews ]


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