The Arabian Peninsula lies at the heart of the Middle East and in antiquity it stood between the mighty civilizations of Egypt and Mesapotamia. Arabia is one of the cradles of civilization. The first concrete evidence of human presence in the Arabian Peninsula dates back 15,000 to 20,000 years. The numerous and diverse cultures which developed in ancient Arabia are monuments to human ingenuity and creativity within challenging natural environments. The ancient Arabs had extensive contacts not only with their Near Eastern neighbours, Iran, Mesopotamia, the Levant, Egypt and the peoples of the Mediterranean, but also with Africa and India. The incense and spice trade followed by the emergence of Islam make the Arabian peninsula a key to understanding the history of the world.