Roots of Agriculture in Southern Arabia


The RASA (Roots of Agriculture in Southern Arabia) Project is an interdisciplinary archaeology-paleoecology research effort exploring early human occupation and activities in the southern mountains of Yemen (Hadramawt Governate) during the early through middle-late Holocene (9000-2500 years ago). During this time, climate change caused regional environmental changes, the local effects of which would have significantly affected human decisions about foraging, farming, and herding. The team has sought data on the timing, processes, and influences on the adoption of domesticated plants and animals into indigenous foraging systems in southern Arabia.   


The American-Yemeni RASA team includes archaeologist Joy McCorriston, geologist Eric Oches, ethnographer Abdalaziz Bin 'Aqil (GOAMM, Mukalla), zooarchaeologist Louise Martin, archaeologist Chris Edens, graduate students and Yemeni contributers.

The team will examined whether Middle Holocene climatic and environmental changes prompted highland southern Arabian foragers to adopt new domesticates and commit themselves to food production. We have identified and surveyed a well-preserved Neolithic landscape dated between 8,600-5,300 years ago in the middle Wadi Sana drainage and have identified land clearance and water management structures that show the earliest deliberate land management strategies in this area. We will expand archaeological excavation and sediment studies to better characterize this way of life. Further survey of Wadi Sana and middle Wadi Idim will compare long-term occupation of two distinct drainages and test our hypothesis that people largely abandoned arid regions to focus on permanent water sources as rainfall diminished in the Middle Holocene. RASA also plans an ethnoarchaeological study of the material expressions of tribal identity to provide baseline models for social groupings in prehistory.

Project funding:
1996: Council for American Overseas Research Centers, the University of Minnesota;
1998: AIYS, the University of Minnesota, and the National Science Foundation;
2000: the National Science Foundation, the Ohio State University, Foundation for Exploration and Research on Cultural Origins;
2002-2006: AIYS, the National Science Foundation, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research

Generous logistical support in Hadramawt provided by Nexen Inc.

Major publications:
• McCorriston, J., E. Oches, D. Walter, & K. Cole (forthcoming) "Holocene Paleoecology and Prehistory in Highland Southern Arabia." Paléorient Vol. 28, No. 1 (2002), pp. 61-88.
• Harrower, M., J. McCorriston & E. Oches, 2002. "Mapping the Roots of Agriculture in Southern Arabia: The Application of Remote Sensing (RS), Global Positioning System." Prospection 9: 35-42.
• McCorriston, J. & E. Oches, 2001. "Two Ancient Checkdams from Southern Arabia." Antiquity 75:575-6.
• McCorriston, J., 2000. "Early Settlement in Hadramawt: Preliminary Report on Prehistoric Occupation at Shi'b Munayder." Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 11:129-153.

• McCorriston, J., 2001, Ancient Agricultural Practices in Hadramawt: New Insights from the RASA Project. The Place of Ancient Agricultural Practices and Techniques in Yemen Today: Problems and Perspectives. Sana'a 18-20, June 2000.

• McCorriston, J., 2000, "RASA 98 -- Roots of Agriculture in South Arabia" University of Minnesota Archaeological Expedition in Yemen, February-March 1998. Yemen Update 41 (1999) 2-6.

• Walter, D., J. McCorriston & E. Oches, 2000. "Shumlya GBS-An Arabian Bifacial Tradition Assemblage from Hadramawt Province, Yemen." Neolithics 00/3:12-14.


Contacts: Joy McCorriston, Ohio State University
Eric Oches, University of South Florida


The American Institute for Yemeni Studies is a US registered 501(c)3 non-profit, academic organization.

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