Fossil finger points to new understanding of earliest human migration

“The climatic shifts that the earliest members of our species must have faced shows just how tough and resilient they were,” Dr Price said

That all changed with the discovery of the Al Wusta finger bone.

Second, it was found in Al Wusta, a site in Saudi Arabia's Nafud desert that is hundreds of miles from the nearest coastline.

"The Al Wusta research adds support to the notion that there were numerous, perhaps almost continuous, pulses of Homo sapiens dispersals from Africa, and that regional moist episodes may have triggered the dispersals", says Donald Henry of the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.

The find represents another challenge to the long-held theory that human migration from Africa began about 60,000 years ago.

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.

Our species first appeared in Africa roughly 300,000 years ago.

The bone was checked in three measurements and its shape contrasted with different other finger bones, both of late Homo sapiens people and bones from different types of primates and different types of early people, for example, Neanderthals. The ancient lakebed (in white) is surrounded by sand dunes of the Nefud Desert.

Writing in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, the team describe how the finger bone was discovered in northern Arabia in 2016 at a site called Al Wusta in the Nefud desert, with a collection of 380 stone tools nearby suggesting groups of tens of humans would have been living at the site.

The finger bone likely belonged to an adult, but it's unclear if that individual was a man or a woman, he added. The team estimates the bone is at least 85,000 years old. Although today the region where the fossil was found is dry and rather inhospitable, the climate there used to be humid and monsoonal at the time the human the finger belonged to was still alive. "There were abundant animals and a lot of people living there", Groucutt said.

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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.

"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.

Nevertheless, many archaeologists believe the Levant was a bottleneck and that humans did not travel further until 70,000 years ago.

The site was first discovered to be archaeologically significant in 2014. 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.

The bone is the oldest fossil of Homo Sapiens species to ever be found outside of Africa and the Levant or the present Middle-East.

"Humans repeatedly expanded into the Levant, into the doorstep of Africa, but we don't know what happened beyond that area", Groucutt said. If ancient humans could leave one environment for the other, they must have been quite adaptable, the researchers said.

The outcomes, distributed in Nature Ecology and Evolution, detail the disclosure made at the site of Al Wusta, an antiquated new water lake situated in what is now the hyper-dry Nefud Desert.

"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", Groucutt said in a statement.

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