Published: Thu, April 12, 2018
Worldwide | By Sean Reid

Finger bone points to early human exodus

Finger bone points to early human exodus

It is the first fossil of a hominin - the group of humans and our direct ancestors - discovered in what is Saudi Arabia today.

Palaeontologist Julien Louys from Griffith University said the discovery showed that modern humans were out of Africa and the nearby Levant region by about 85,000 or 90,000 years ago.

"This discovery of a fossil finger bone for me is like a dream come true because it supports arguments that our teams have been making for more than 10 years", Michael Petraglia, an archaeologist from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany and an author on the paper, which was published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, said during a media briefing.

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.

Researchers at Cambridge University concluded that the 3.2-centimeter finger belonged to Homo sapiens. The small finger bone was a brief glimpse into a slice of time from so long ago. However, the researchers had their colleagues do a micro-computed tomography (CT) scan to make sure.

"All of these studies agreed that the fossil belonged to Homo sapiens", Groucutt said at the news conference.

The team were able to date the finger bone directly using a technique known as uranium-series dating. There they found the middle bone of a middle finger.

Researchers say it shows hunter-gatherers had reached that area by 85,000 years ago.

But why were these African animals in Arabia at this time?

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Arabia was at the heart of that dispersal from Africa into Asia. "There were abundant animals and a lot of people living there", Groucutt said.

Questions remain over the fate of the early inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula. "This discovery firmly puts Arabia on the map as a key region for understanding our origins and expansion to the rest of the world".

The exhumation began at Al Wusta.

Scientists had also previously believed that modern humans moved via the Middle East into other parts of Asia and Europe in a single migratory wave. This fossil proves those claims wrong and shows that humans first dispersed further than was thought.

But no bones had been found that definiteively predated the migration outside Africa and the Levant - until now. While the Levant was then a wooded area with winter rainfall, Al Wusta, about 400 miles (650 kilometers) away, was a grassland that received summer rain.

"They're coming up against animals that they've never seen before; environments they've never seen before", he said.

Moreover, the date of the fossil finger jibes with other archaeological evidence of ancient humans uncovered outside of Africa, the researchers said, including 70,000-year-old H. sapiens fossils found at Tam Pa Ling in Laos; 68,000-year-old H. sapiens teeth found in the Lida Ajer cave, in Sumatra; 80,000-year-old H. sapiens teeth from the Fuyan Cave in China; and the 65,000-year-old documentation of human presence in Australia.

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

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