• Real-World Geography: Dr. Jeffrey Rose
    Jeffrey Rose is an archaeologist studying early human migration routes out of Africa.

    Photograph by Scott deGraw

    By Alyssa Samson

    Tuesday, July 10, 2012

    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.


    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. 


    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?”


    “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.”


    “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.


    “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?”


    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. 

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    ancient Adjective

    very old.

    archaeologist Noun

    person who studies artifacts and lifestyles of ancient cultures.

    artifact Noun

    material remains of a culture, such as tools, clothing, or food.

    coastline Noun

    outer boundary of a shore.

    despair noun, verb


    dig site Noun

    place where paleontologists, archaeologists, or other scientists are digging into the Earth to find artifacts or fossils. Also called an excavation.

    distribution Noun

    the way something is spread out over an area.

    Encyclopedic Entry: distribution
    Emerging Explorer Noun

    an adventurer, scientist, innovator, or storyteller recognized by National Geographic for their visionary work while still early in their careers.

    fertile Adjective

    able to produce crops or sustain agriculture.

    field work Noun

    scientific studies done outside of a lab, classroom, or office.

    Encyclopedic Entry: field work
    geography Noun

    study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

    Encyclopedic Entry: geography
    graduate student Noun

    person who pursues a college or university degree program beyond the basic bachelor's degree.

    grassland Noun

    ecosystem with large, flat areas of grasses.

    Hanging Gardens of Babylon Noun

    (605-562 BCE, possibly legendary) enormous rooftop garden complex built by the Chaldean civilization in what is today Iraq.

    hunter-gatherer Noun

    person who gets food by using a combination of hunting, fishing, and foraging.

    Indiana Jones Noun

    series of movies (named after the main character).

    jaded Adjective

    exhausted, bored, or weary.

    King Tut Noun

    (1341-1323 BCE) nickname of Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun.

    landscape Noun

    the geographic features of a region.

    Encyclopedic Entry: landscape
    limestone Noun

    type of sedimentary rock mostly made of calcium carbonate from shells and skeletons of marine organisms.

    monsoon Noun

    seasonal change in the direction of the prevailing winds of a region. Monsoon usually refers to the winds of the Indian Ocean and South Asia, which often bring heavy rains.

    Encyclopedic Entry: monsoon
    morale Noun

    emotional or psychological condition of a person or group of people.

    Near East Noun

    imprecise term for countries in southwestern Asia, sometimes including Egypt.

    Nubian Complex Noun

    (128,000-74,000 years ago) nomadic hunter-gatherers who flourished in Africa's Nile Valley.

    perennial Adjective

    happening on a yearly basis.

    plateau Noun

    large region that is higher than the surrounding area and relatively flat.

    Encyclopedic Entry: plateau
    Pyramids Plural Noun

    three large pyramids outside Giza, Egypt: the Pyramid of Khufu (2560 BCE), the Pyramid of Khafre (2532 BCE) and the Pyramid of Menkaure (2515 BCE). Also called the Pyramids of Giza.

    retrospect Noun

    consideration of past events.

    sand dune Noun

    mound of sand created by the wind.

    savanna Noun

    type of tropical grassland with scattered trees.

    scenario Noun

    predicted sequence of events.

    Seven Wonders of the Ancient World Noun

    unofficial list of remarkable constructions made by ancient civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean and Near East: Pyramid of Giza (Egypt), Hanging Gardens of Babylon (Iraq), Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (Turkey), Statue of Zeus at Olympia (Greece), Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (Turkey), Colossus of Rhodes (Greece), Lighthouse of Alexandria (Egypt).

    spatial Adjective

    having to do with location and placement.

    tangible Adjective

    able to be touched or felt.

    technology Noun

    the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.

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