Ancient human finger bone found in Saudi Arabia 'could rewrite human history'

Excavating at Al Wusta

"This find, together with other finds in last few years, suggests that modern humans, Homo Sapiens, were moving out of Africa multiple times during many windows of opportunity during the last 100,000 years or so", said Professor Michael Petraglia who led the research. It's 3.2 centimeters long and was probably was part of a middle finger.

Scientists once thought that humans moved out of Africa within a single period of about 50,000 to 70,000 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.

"All of these studies agreed that the fossil belonged to Homo sapiens", Groucutt said at the news conference. 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.

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The bone was discovered in an area known as Al Wusta that 90,000 years ago would have looked very different to the desert it is today - with plentiful rivers and lakes. Stone tools that hunter-gatherers used also were found.

Along with the human remains, the researchers discovered the remnants of animals long-since extinct in the Middle East including hippopotami from a time when the Arabian Desert was greener and more fertile, resembling the African Savannah.

Survey and mapping of the Al Wusta site. In January, another group of researchers announced the discovery of a 194,000-year-old modern human jawbone in Israel's Misliya Cave, Live Science previously reported.

What they found was a fossilised human finger - the middle bone of the middle finger to be exact.

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"These dried lake beds are being exposed by the moving sand dunes, so they're just literally lying on the surface, it's just a matter of looking around and seeing what we can find", Dr Louys said. 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.

Recent finds have led archaeologists to question that idea, with some claiming evidence of homo sapiens spreading beyond Africa and the adjacent Levant region 120,000 or more years ago. If ancient humans could leave one environment for the other, they must have been quite adaptable, the researchers said. Prior to the Al Wusta discovery, however, early dispersals into the Levant were thought to have been unsuccessful, and confined to the forested Mediterranean regions.

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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