85000-year-old fossil finger points to early humans entering Saudi Arabia

85000-year-old fossil finger points to early humans entering Saudi Arabia

85000-year-old fossil finger points to early humans entering Saudi Arabia

Because of this uncertainty, the Al Wusta finger bone is the oldest confirmed remnant of a modern human found outside Africa and the Levant. Now, archaeologists have evidence of humans successfully striking out into the unknown, early in our species' history. Now, they may have it.

A fossilized finger bone of an early human discovered in Saudi Arabia's Nefud desert is challenging long-held views about human migration out of Africa.

The researchers say the discovery puts a spotlight on Saudi Arabia as the region could lead to even more exciting discoveries relating to our early ancestors and their first steps out of Africa. "They earned this find the old-fashioned way: hard work".

"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", Groucutt said in a statement.

"It now seems likely that early modern humans were in southern China about 100,000 years ago, and they had reached Australia by about 65,000 years ago", says Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London, UK.

"The Arabian Peninsula has always been considered to be far from the main stage of human evolution", said senior author Professor Michael Petraglia, from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

"But here we've dated both the deposits and the fossil finger bone directly", Petraglia said. Others have argued there were several migrations in and out of Africa throughout this whole period.

The Al Wusta site in Saudi Arabia's Nefud Desert is a dry, arid place today, but it sat on the lush banks of a lake 88,000 years ago. Although it's a desert zone now, 90,000 years ago, the site was on the bank of a freshwater lake.

"He picked up the bone", Petraglia recalled, "and he immediately recognized it as human".

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The finger bone wasn't the only find at the site. It is the second bone in from the fingertip, but it's not clear which finger.

Mr Groucutt and a team used a form of radiometry called uranium series dating to determine the bone's age by measuring tiny traces of radioactive elements.

Using a laser, he and his colleagues drilled seven microscopic holes into the bone.

It's a single bone from a Homo sapiens finger, and it's at least 85,000 to 90,000 years old, according to a study published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. Hundreds of animal fossils were found at the site, including those belonging to hippopotamus, as well as plenty of stone tools made by humans.

For years, many archaeologists have believed that our species only left Africa around 70,000 years ago, and from there spread rapidly into Asia and Europe, and ultimately the Americas.

The team recognised the bone as human on sight, and later confirmed this by comparing it to finger bones of other humans, extinct hominins like Neanderthals, and other primates such as gorillas.

Katerina Harvati, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany, agrees, noting there's so much anatomical overlap between hominin species that she'd like to see additional fossils confirm it.

The bone is one of the oldest pieces of evidence of modern humans living outside Africa.

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