Science

85000-Year-Old Fossil Found May Rewrite History Of Human Migration

85000-Year-Old Fossil Found May Rewrite History Of Human Migration

Among these finds was a well preserved and small fossil, just 3.2 centimetre long, which was immediately recognised as a human finger bone.

It is the oldest fossil belonging to homo sapien found outside of Africa and the Levant (a historical region encompassing what is now Syria), and the first ancient human fossil discovered in Saudi Arabia.

Scientists have found what appear to be Homo sapiens teeth in Chinese caves that suggest humans arrived there much earlier.

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. The ancient lake bed (in white) is surrounded by sand dunes of the Nefud Desert.

"We know that shortly after they lived, the rains failed and the area dried up", said Oxford archaeologist Huw Groucutt. However, the researchers had their colleagues do a micro-computed tomography (CT) scan to make sure.

This 85,000-year-old fragment, however, has just helped to revolutionise our understanding of early human history because it should not have been in Arabia for another 25,000 years.

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.

The object in question is a fossilized piece of a bone, probably the middle portion of a middle finger.

First, uranium series dating techniques indicate that the bone is between 85,000 and 90,000 years old.

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The bone itself was found poking out of the surface of the Al Wusta excavation site in 2016 by Iyad Zalmout, a paleontologist with the Saudi Geological Survey.

But why were these African animals in Arabia at this time? "There were abundant animals and a lot of people living there", Groucutt said.

"The Al Wusta research adds support to the notion that there were numerous, perhaps almost continuous, pulses of Homo sapiens dispersals from Africa, and that regional moist episodes may have triggered the dispersals", says Donald Henry of the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.

The research team has only explored a couple of hundred lakes out of 10,000 in the region.

The authors conclude from this early incursion into what was then a green Arabia that human movement out of Africa may have been helped by natural climate change in the form of increased precipitation.

The global consortium of researchers involved in this project is headed by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, in partnership with the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage. If ancient humans could leave one environment for the other, they must have been quite adaptable, the researchers said. Genetic studies show that humans may have made it to Eastern Asia as early as 80,000 years ago.

"The ability of these early people to widely colonize this region casts doubt on long-held views that early dispersals out of Africa were localized and unsuccessful", Groucutt said.

"Tracing the evolution and geographic dispersal of the human lineage is rather like connecting pitifully few dots on a vast three-dimensional grid of time and space", Donald O. Henry, an anthropologist from the University of Tulsa, wrote in an article published alongside the new study.


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