Archaeologist: Dr. Jeffrey Rose

Archaeologist: Dr. Jeffrey Rose

Dr. Jeffrey Rose is an archaeologist who has dedicated most of his career to search for ancient humans’ migration out of Africa and Arabia. He has specifically been examining the time period and departure route of the “Nubian Complex.”


8 - 12+


Geography, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Human Geography, Social Studies, World History

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Dr. Jeffrey Rose is an archaeologist and 2012 Emerging Explorer. He travels throughout the Arabian Peninsula in search of evidence about early humans and their migratory paths outside of Africa.

Early Work
Most parents love it when their child is interested in reading encyclopedias at a young age. It shows they are eager and curious about the world around them. On the other hand, Jeffrey’s parents were not too excited when he decided to cut out all of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World” pictures from their encyclopedias and hang them on his wall.

“[The pictures] were always Near East too—the Pyramids, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, that kind of thing, but then I saw Indiana Jones and I was locked in from there,” he says.

Jeffrey’s fascination with archaeology was clear even at the age of three, when his mother brought him home a King Tut coloring book from an exhibit. He became obsessed with a different world. “From day one, I was hooked,” he says.

“I was supposed to be a lawyer, a doctor, or something respectable. My sister is ... [E]veryone else is doing something respectable. I was supposed to be something like a businessman, but I’m the freak,” he says.

Most Exciting Part of Your Work
The most exciting thing for Jeffrey is getting to do field work. “We don’t dig sites, we explore, so we are surveying sites and mapping for new sites. It’s an area that no one has been before, everything is new and everything is a discovery.”

“Every morning I just sit there with Google Earth, having my coffee, and I’m like ‘oh let’s go here today, let’s try this.’ To me that’s just one of the most interesting things, what are we going to find today?”

Most Demanding Part of Your Work
“There are a lot of times where you don’t find anything. There are days and days and weeks and weeks when you don’t find anything. Morale starts getting really low and there is this tangible sense of despair, which is really depressing. That’s a challenge, just getting through those really bad days.

“You have got to fail and have those days where you’re not finding anything or you’re finding the wrong stuff,” Jeffrey says. “The only way you can succeed is getting up the next day after failing and keeping at it.”

How Dd You Define Geography?
“To me, it’s anything spatial, anything to do with the distribution of things across the Earth,” he says. “The geography I deal with is seeing the landscape as it was. It’s almost four-dimensional. I’m looking at a sand dune, but it wasn’t a sand dune 400,000 years ago, it was a lake.

“It’s reading the landscape and getting the geography of the ancient world.”

When Jeffrey was a graduate student, a professor told him, “the most gratified scientists are the ones that prove themselves wrong.”

“If you’re right all the time, you’re not learning anything,” Jeffrey says.

Jeffrey proved himself wrong when he and his team of archaeologists discovered artifacts that have changed the course of history ... literally.

For years, scientists thought that when humans left Africa, the route they took was along the coastlines of Ethiopia, Yemen, and Oman. Most of Jeffrey’s career has been searching for archaeological artifacts to prove that this is the migratory path that humans chose 60,000 years ago.

But after a tiresome amount of searching the coastlines for evidence in 2010, Jeffrey was coming up short.

“Now, I have to go back home and I have nothing to show for it. I thought we were never going to get any more funding,” he says.

Finally, Jeffrey figured he needed to be more flexible and search in different locations, further from the coast.

On the second-to-last day of their exploration, Jeffrey and his team came across the artifacts they were searching for. The materials showed signs of being made by the “Nubian Complex,” hunter-gatherers from Africa’s Nile Valley.

“Hunter-gatherers are very mobile,” he says. “They didn’t just sit when they got there. In a lifetime they might have been crossing the Red Sea multiple times. That’s the thing we need to be aware of, that it’s very complicated.”

By using technology to date the artifacts, Jeffrey learned that some of the tools were more than 100,000 years old—indicating that the Nubian Complex not only left Africa much earlier than previously thought, but took a different route as well. As Jeffrey told National Geographic, “The Nile Valley and Oman's Dhofar region are both limestone plateaus, heavily affected by perennial rivers. It's logical that people moved from an environment they knew to another one that mirrored it. At the time when I'm suggesting they expanded out of Africa, southern Arabia was fertile grassland. The Indian Ocean monsoon system activated rivers, and as sand dunes trapped water, it became a land of a thousand lakes. It was a paradise for early humans, whose livelihood depended upon hunting on the open savanna.”

“We had never thought about that scenario. In retrospect, it was the most obvious scenario and I think how could I be so stupid for not considering that,” he says.

After his state of excitement wore off, Jeffrey came back to the U.S., eager to reveal his discoveries.

“The saddest and most depressing part was we went back and no one believed us. It took a year and a half to get the initial publication out,” he says.

So, You Want To Be an ... Archaeologist

“Over the summers, go on a dig. That’s what I did and that’s what opened the doors for me. There are a hundred excavations out there that will take volunteers. Just do it, just go out and dig. Find your passion. Find that itch that you really have to scratch. What is the burning question that you really want to know the answer to?”

Get Involved
Jeffrey encourages any age to visit a dig site. “I have had volunteers from 90 years old to 12 years old. Anyone can do it. It’s wonderfully rewarding. It never gets jaded. When you are picking something up and you’re the first person to touch that artifact since the person who dropped it, that never gets old,” he says.

Media Credits

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Alyssa Samson
National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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