Arabia

In contrast, the possibility of hominin dispersions through the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant, either across the Sinai Peninsula or the Bab-el-Mandeb Straits at the south of the Red Sea, is indicated by the mixed Afro-Eurasian nature of the fauna of the region since the later part of the Pliocene and in particular by the Early Pleistocene deposits at 'Ubeidiya in Israel (Tchernov 1992; Turner 1999b; Belmaker et al. 2002). Late Pliocene African elements, chiefly bovids and giraffids, are known to the north of the Taurus-Zagros mountain chain that borders the northern boundaries of the Arabian Peninsula at localities such as Kuabebi in the Caucasus and Wolacks in Greece (Sickenberg 1967), the Oltet Valley in Romania (Radulesco and Samson 1990) and Huelago in southern Spain (Alberdi et al. 2001). The dispersals represented by these occurrences appear to have been part of a larger faunal turnover in Eurasia, what Azzaroli et al. (1988) termed the

Elephant-Equus event in Europe, since it was thought to be marked by the first appearance of Mammuthus and the true horse, Equus, although the first appearance of these genera now seems to have been somewhat earlier (Radulesco and Samson 1990, 2001).

At Dmanisi, the African elements consist of a giraffe, Paleotragus sp. (Gabunia et al. 2001), and at Ubeidiya an undetermined giraffid, the bovids Pelorovis oldowayensis and an oryx, the hippo Hippopotamus gorgops, and perhaps the spotted hyena, Crocuta crocuta (Tchernov 1992). The Acheulean industry at Ubeidiya is unknown at Dmanisi and appears to have developed in Africa at a slightly later date. Other Early Pleistocene localities in Europe have relatively few African species. Much has been made of the appearance of the cercopithcoid Theropithecus cf. T. oswaldi at Cueva Victoria in southeastern Spain (Gibert et al. 1995) and Piro Nord in Italy (Rook et al. 2004) and of the possibly African machairodont cat, Megantereon whitei, at Venta Micena and in the fauna at Dmanisi and at the Greek locality of Apollonia (Martínez-Navarro and Palmqvist 1995, 1996). However, while Theropithecus may indicate African links, the genus Megantereon was a well-established member of the Afro-Eurasian carnivore fauna after around 3.0 Myr (Turner 1987) so that claims for its significance in the question of dispersals require further investigation. Of rather more obvious importance is the presence of Hippopotamus, which makes an early appearance at the Pliocene locality of Valea Graunceanului in Romania (Bolomey, 1965), and at several the Lower Pleistocene sites such as 'Ubeidiya and Venta Micena (O'Regan et al. in press).

Overall, we conclude that the suggestions of possible hominin dispersions into Eurasia during the later Pliocene that appear in the literature from time to time (Bonifay and Vandermeersch 1991; Boitel et al. 1996), while unsupported by critical assessments of the evidence within Eurasia, cannot be dismissed a priori as impossible or even unlikely. These conclusions parallel some of those reached by Mithen and Reed (2002) in their computer simulation of dispersals and stressed elsewhere (Dennell 1998, 2004). If recent arguments summarized earlier about the status of later Pliocene species referred to the genus Homo are correct, then clearly the earliest hominin to have moved out of Africa would not have been a member of our own genus. However, whether such a view offers support for an extra-African origin for H. erectus remains unclear to us.

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