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Fossil Human Finger from Saudi Desert is 90000 Years Old

11 April 2018, 11:20 | Clyde Nash

Finger bone points to new insight on human migration

The first early human migration out of Africa and into Eurasia may have been much more widespread than previously thought according to a new fossil discovery in Saudi Arabia

"A more intriguing question", says Weinstein-Evron, is whether the early humans of the Levant and of Arabia all belong to the same population, or whether they represent multiple migrations out of Africa.

A basic visual examination suggested it belonged to Homo sapiens, Groucutt said. It contradicts received wisdom concerning the history of humanity, suggesting instead that people were spreading far and wide 30,000 years earlier than previously thought. "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. The earliest human fossils in the Levant date to 177,000 years ago from a fossil in Misliya Cave in Israel.

However, the recent archeological discovery in Saudi Arabia indicates that Homo Sapiens could have made their way to Eurasia as early as 120,000 years ago. In addition, because the bone has mineralized into a fossil and has sat in an arid environment for thousands of years, it likely doesn't have any DNA left in it, Groucutt said.

The team found fossils of animals, including hippos, as well as advanced stone tools.

It was a very different landscape then, with grasslands and lakes hosting animals and humans.

Project Lead Michael Petraglia said, "The Arabian Peninsula has always been considered to be far from the main stage of human evolution".

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"We are one of two projects in Arabia that are working on this time period", but satellite images show that there are about 10,000 paleo lakes in the region, Petraglia said. The Al Wusta bone fits with that narrative. Though measuring no more than 3cm, the finger bone has big implications for our understanding of early human history.

This archeological upheaval of migration patterns wouldn't have been possible if scientists hadn't been permitted to explore the region, Petraglia told the New York Times (paywall).

"We know that shortly after they lived, the rains failed and the area dried up", said Oxford archaeologist Huw Groucutt. "That night back at the hotel, we were Googling 'human finger bone" and, yeah, it looked like our species".

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.

"They're coming up against animals that they've never seen before; environments they've never seen before", he said. Prior to this discovery, it was thought that early dispersals into Eurasia were unsuccessful and remained restricted to the Mediterranean forests of the Levant, on the doorstep of Africa.

In work published April 9 in Nature Evolution and Ecology, a massive group of worldwide researchers including scientists from the University of Cambridge, the Max Planck Institute, the Australian National University, and the Saudi Geological Survey reported finding an 88,000-year-old middle-finger bone in the Nefud desert in what is now Saudi Arabia.



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