Discovery of 85000-year-old finger bone fossil rewrites human history

Discovery of 85000-year-old finger bone fossil rewrites human history

Discovery of 85000-year-old finger bone fossil rewrites human history

"We found many archaeological sites; many animal fossils, but one thing was always missing - ancient human fossils", said Dr Huw Groucutt, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford who directed the field work that led to the discovery.

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.

"This discovery for the first time conclusively shows that early members of our species colonised an expansive region of south-west Asia and were not just restricted to the Levant", said Dr Groucutt.

'We know that shortly after they lived, the rains failed and the area dried up.

This 85,000-year-old fragment, however, has just helped to revolutionise our understanding of early human history because it should not have been in Arabia for another 25,000 years. The Nefud Desert's sand dunes surround the ancient lake bed (white).

"This discovery for the first time conclusively shows that early members of our species colonized an expansive region of southwest Asia and were not just restricted to the Levant", said lead author Dr. Huw Groucutt, from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany. Previously discovered human fossils show an earlier human presence in Israel and possibly China.

"The Arabian Peninsula has always been considered to be far from the main stage of human evolution", said senior author Professor Michael Petraglia, from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

Several competing theories explain when and by what routes our earliest ancestors migrated out of Africa after they evolved there as early as 300,000 years ago. Teeth found in Chinese caves have been dated to between 80,000 and 120,000 years, although the dates are based on the caves' stalagmites, not the teeth themselves. Their hunch paid off 2 years later, when study co-author and paleontologist Iyad Zalmout of the Saudi Geological Survey in Jeddah found a small bone stuck in the sediment.

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The finger bone wasn't the only find at the site.

The object in question is a fossilized piece of a bone, probably the middle portion of a middle finger.

The finger bone, obviously human, was then subjected to a method called uranium-series dating that uses a laser to measure the ratio between tiny traces of radioactive elements.

The global team published its findings in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

"It really challenges that idea that humans only left 60,000 years ago", he said.
Hundreds of animal fossils were found at the site, including those belonging to hippopotamus, as well as plenty of stone tools made by humans.

John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, says the authors have convincingly shown the finger bone is likely a hominin of some sort.

Those factors stand in sharp contrast to the traditional "out of Africa" narrative of human migration.

The team recognised the bone as human on sight, and later confirmed this by comparing it to finger bones of other humans, extinct hominins like Neanderthals, and other primates such as gorillas.

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