Once out of Africa, early human migration was widespread

by Garry Watts April 12, 2018, 5:00
Once out of Africa, early human migration was widespread

A fossilised human finger bone dating to nearly 90,000 years ago has been discovered in the Saudi Arabian desert, a find researchers say points to the possibility that our species ventured towards the east far earlier than previously thought.

For more than a decade, a team of archaeologists and anthropologists scoured the Arabian Desert for evidence that some of the earliest members of our species once traversed these formerly green lands.

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

"These dried lake beds are being exposed by the moving sand dunes, so they're just literally lying on the surface, it's just a matter of looking around and seeing what we can find", Dr Louys said.

Dr Duval helped date the finger bone unearthed in Saudi Arabia's Nefud Desert to between 85,000 and 90,000 years ago.

"These animals tell us that when humans were living there it was not a desert, that the site was a lake, a small but permanent perennial freshwater lake, in a grassland setting", said Groucutt. A human jawbone is the oldest human fossil to be discovered outside the African continent was uncovered at Misliya in Israel and has been dated to between 177,000 and 194,000 years old, suggesting that Homo Sapiens spread out from their original African homeland in multiple waves of migration spanning the course of tens of thousands of years. This fossil proves those claims wrong and shows that humans first dispersed further than was thought.

Dr Mathieu Duval, of Griffith University, part of the global research team that found the fossil, told nine.com.au it points to humans beginning movement from Africa at a much earlier date than conventionally thought.

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A view of Al Wusta, Saudi Arabia, where archaeologists found the fossilized finger of a Homo sapiens. Genetic studies show that humans may have made it to Eastern Asia as early as 80,000 years ago.

"But here we've dated both the deposits and the fossil finger bone directly", Petraglia said.

It was an intermediate phalanx, the bone between a fingertip and finger knuckle. "He said, "This is a human finger, '" Groucutt recalls".

The finger bone wasn't the only find at the site. Professional anatomists analyzed 3D scans of the bone and concluded that it was a match for our own species, rather than another early hominins such as Neandertals or a member of Australopithecus.

Using a technique called uranium series dating, a laser was used to make microscopic holes in the bone and measure the ratio between tiny traces of radioactive elements.

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. "Still, I doubt whether anyone can identify a single isolated finger bone as a modern human, as opposed to any other form of hominin", such as Neandertal, he says.

Previously, it was theorised that Homo sapiens did not live continuously outside Africa until 60,000 years ago. During this period they scoured the region for signs of early humans, seeing it as a natural "stepping stone" for humans leaving Africa.

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