The first human migration from Africa was more widespread than scientists thought

Marsha Scott
April 12, 2018

The bone is the first and oldest human fossil found on the Arabian peninsula and also the oldest specimen of homo sapiens to be discovered outside of Africa and its doorstep region - the Levant.

"This discovery for the first time conclusively shows that early members of our species colonized an expansive region of southwest Asia and were not just restricted to the Levant", said lead author Dr. Huw Groucutt, from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany. "They earned this find the old-fashioned way: hard work".

Some of these discoveries relate to genetic analyses that show humans interbred with groups like the Denisovans and Neanderthals.

An global research team, including Oxford University scientists and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, has been scouring the region's ancient lake beds for signs of what life was like tens of thousands of years ago.

The finding is the oldest human fossil on record unearthed outside of Africa and the Levant (an area encompassing the Eastern Mediterranean, including Israel), and the oldest human remains uncovered in Saudi Arabia, the researchers said.

Huw Groucutt of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and his colleagues found the finger bone at a site called Al Wusta in what is now the Nefud Desert.

Our species first appeared in Africa roughly 300,000 years ago.

The single fossil finger bone of Homo sapiens - pictured from various angles - from the Al Wusta site, Saudi Arabia is pictured in this undated handout composite photo obtained by Reuters April 9, 2018.

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The fossil was found while researchers were conducting archaeological fieldwork in the Nefud Desert in Saudi Arabia.

While the Nefud Desert is now a veritable sea of sand, it was hospitable when this individual lived - a grasslands teeming with wildlife alongside a freshwater lake.

"He picked up the bone", Petraglia recalled, "and he immediately recognized it as human". It is the second bone in from the fingertip, but it's not clear which finger.

The finger bone wasn't the only find at the site. It's 3.2 centimeters long and was probably was part of a middle finger.

Using a laser, he and his colleagues drilled seven microscopic holes into the bone. By comparing the ratios of uranium and thorium present in the bone, scientists can tell its age.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History have published the study in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Dr Maria Martinon-Torres, director of the National Research Center on Human Evolution in Spain, said: "With the finding in Al Wusta I would say that presence of Homo sapiens in Asia before 50,000-60,000 years ago is out of doubt, and we can now move on to the next questions: how and why modern humans left Africa and why they took so long to enter Europe". The team also dated a hippopotamus tooth, stone tools and sediments, which provided similar date ranges of about 85,000 to 90,000 years.

John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, says the authors have convincingly shown the finger bone is likely a hominin of some sort.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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