ScienceNOW - Up to the minute news from Scienc SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—The Dead Sea region has been a center of human activity for hundreds of thousands of years—and the layers of sediments buried beneath the lake, scientists think, hold clues to the changing environment in which those cultures existed. Now, an analysis of sediments drawn from the center of the lake basin reported here this week at the American Geophysical Union's annual meeting reveals that, contrary to what scientists previously believed, the lake once completely dried up. The study is part of the Dead Sea Deep Drilling Project, a $2.6 million effort begun 10 years ago to recover the longest, most continuous, and best-preserved archive of environmental and seismic information in the Middle East. Following two drilling efforts, one lasting from November 2010 to January 2011, and one in March 2011, project researchers have now extracted a 1-kilometer-long core of sediment from the center of the basin, representing roughly 200,000 years of climate and seismic data for the region. The biggest surprise so far? About 120,000 years ago, the Dead Sea essentially dried up. Scientists didn't think that would happen. At 425 meters below sea level, the Dead Sea is at the lowest continental elevation on Earth, and it is about 34% saline. That extreme saltiness, scientists thought, would ultimately prevent the lake water from completely evaporating. They were convinced that the lowest the water level in the Dead Sea could sink was about 150 meters below its current level.