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Desertification has increased through the millennia. Before desertification made the caravan trails leading across the Rub' al Khali so difficult, the caravans of the frankincense trade crossed now virtually impassable stretches of wasteland, until about AD 300.
Today the inhabitants of the Empty Quarter are members of various local tribes – for example, the Al Murrah tribe has the largest area mainly based between Al Ahsa and Najran.
The first documented journeys by non-resident explorers were made by British explorers Bertram Thomas in 1931 and St. Between 19 Wilfred Thesiger crossed the area several times and mapped large parts of the Empty Quarter including the mountains of Oman, as described in his 1959 book Arabian Sands.
In 1999 Jamie Clarke became the first Westerner to cross the Empty Quarter of Arabia in fifty years.
Evidence suggests that the lakes were home to a variety of flora and fauna.
Dewan Ruler's Representative for Western Region, Emirate of Abu Dhabi recognized it as the world's first on-foot crossing of the Empty Quarter following the border of Oman and ending in UAE.
The team only made use of three water stops along the journey, and pulled a specially designed cart which housed all the supplies necessary for the entire expedition.
In 2013 from 18 February to 28 March, South Korean explorer Young-Ho Nam led a team (Agustin Arroyo Bezanilla, Si-Woo Lee) on a crossing through the Empty Quarter on foot from Salalah, Oman, to Liwa Oasis, United Arab Emirates.
There is also evidence of human activity dating from 3,000 to 2,000 years ago, including chipped flint tools, but no actual human remains have been found.
The region is classified as "hyper-arid", with annual precipitation generally less than 35 millimetres (1.4 in), and daily mean relative humidity of about 52% in January and 15% in June-July.
His team of six, including three Bedouin, spent 40 days crossing the desert with a caravan of 13 camels.