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 bone dates back to 88,000 years ago and suggests that the migration of homo sapiens out of Africa was more widespread and successful than initially believed compared to previous studies which concluded that migration was “limited to Levantine Mediterranean woodlands immediately adjacent to Africa.”
Huw Groucutt, lead author of the study says it “conclusively shows that early members of our species colonized an expansive region of southwest Asia and were not just restricted to the Levant.” That evidence, Groucutt says, “casts doubt on long held views that early dispersals out of Africa were localized and unsuccessful”
In addition to the bone, now classified as “the oldest directly dated fossil of our species outside Africa and the Levant,” the find also turned up stone tools used by humans. The discovery of fossils of hippopotamus and tiny fresh water snails also shows that Al Wusta, the site of discovery in the now arid desert, was previously a freshwater lake.
The team behind the discovery included researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, the Saudi Geological Survey, King Saud University and the University of Oxford. The results of the find were published in Nature Ecology & Evolution journal.
Dating the bone back to 88,000 years ago also corroborates a recent study published in Science which shows that human migration from Africa happened much earlier than thought. While scientists previously believed humans migrated out of Africa about 60,000 years ago, the study showed migrations likely started as early as 120,000 years ago.