Finger bone points to early humans in Arabian Peninsula

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The bone was scanned in three dimensions and its shape compared to various other finger bones, both of recent Homo sapiens individuals and bones from other species of primates and other forms of early humans, such as Neanderthals.

Utilizing a method called uranium arrangement dating, a laser was utilized to make infinitesimal gaps in the fossil and measure the proportion between minor hints of radioactive components. Following the fossil's discovery in 2016, the scientists spent two years subjecting it to rigorous tests determining its age and confirming that it did, indeed, belong to a member of the Homo sapiens species.

Some have tried to reconcile these findings with the late-exodus narrative by claiming there may have been an early, but ultimately doomed, first wave migration out of Africa some 120,000 years ago, after which humans more or less stayed put on the continent for another 60,000 years. But 90,000 years ago, there would have been a large river and an extensive fertile area that welcomed plants, animals and even humans.

In January this year, a team led by Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University in Israel and Mina Weinstein-Evron of the University of Haifa, Israel unveiled a human jawbone from Israel that was 177,000 years old. The analysis showed that that bone was about 87,600 years old, give or take 2,500 years.

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Survey and mapping of the Al Wusta site. It shows that our ancestors progressed beyond the Levant "bottleneck" much earlier than thought, creating a new staging post in Saudi Arabia from which they could push on into the rest of Asia.

"The climatic shifts that the earliest members of our species must have faced shows just how tough and resilient they were", Dr Price said. When the Saudi finger bone is combined with the teeth from China and the artefacts from Australia, "it does all fit together very neatly", Groucutt said.

People may have settled Arabia at this early date because it was an appealing place to live.

The bone was discovered in an area rich with stone tools as well as the fossilized bones and remains of hippos and freshwater snails. Crucially, said Groucutt, these stone tools were of an "old-fashioned" type, countering the idea that human migration beyond the Levant was driven by our species developing better technology, with evidence of an ancient lake highlighting that the dispersal was at least partly driven by a changing climate.

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"This discovery of the fossil finger bone is like a dream come true because it supports arguments that our teams have been making for more than 10 years", said Prof Michael Petraglia of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, a co-author of the research.

"Did they leave Africa by travelling up the Nile, into the Sinai, and then across the Middle East to what is now Iran?" asks Stringer.

This begins a debate as to whether there was a possible second migration route through the Red Sea into Arabia. 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.

Found at a site known as Al Wusta in the middle of the hyper-arid Nefud desert, the bone is the culmination of a decade's work by Prof Petraglia and his colleagues.

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