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

Two things make it unusually significant.

The Arabian finger bone is the first and earliest homo sapiens fossil found on the Arabian Peninsula, as well as the oldest specimen of the human species to be discovered outside of Africa and its doorstep, the Levant.

The researchers behind the study discovered the crucial finger bone at a site called Al Wusta in the Nefud Desert.

This new finding is one of many that are helping scientists map early humans' trek out of Africa.

But recent discoveries have poked holes in this story.

In fact, the remains of the Nefud Desert's other ancient lakes may sport even more evidence of early Homo sapiens who were likely following big-game animals out of Africa, the researchers said. In the Luna Cave, more teeth were uncovered among material that is believed to be between 130,000 and 70,000 years old. But a number of finds have challenged this "single wave" view, including the discovery of a jawbone in Israel apparently from about 180,000 years ago and fossils from other sites in Israel dating from 90,000-130,000 years ago.

The study was published online today (April 9) in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. "He said, "This is a human finger, '" Groucutt recalls. It was that distinctive". Then they compared that shape with dozens of finger bones from humans, non-human primates and extinct hominin species.

"What we're arguing here is that there were multiple dispersals out of Africa, so the process of the movement and the colonisation of Eurasia was far more complicated than our textbooks tell us", said study co-author Michael Petraglia of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany.

Using lasers, researchers collected a microscopically small sample of the fossilized bone and used it to gauge its age.

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The finger bone wasn't the only find at the site. They had dug up hundreds of stone tools, collected satellite imagery of thousands of paleolakes and found numerous bones belonging to wild cattle, antelopes and other animals.

That's what Huw Groucutt, a paleoarchaeologist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, and his team were looking for when they began excavating sites in the Arabian Desert more than 10 years ago. Instead, monsoon rains had transformed the area into a grassland with freshwater lakes and rivers.

"And, of course, hunters and gatherers would have been following those animals", Petraglia said.

The findings demonstrate that climate change aided the spread of our species earlier than previously thought.

"Homo sapiens fossils with reliable dating and context around this period, outside Africa, are very scarce", she said.

Today, this is where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden.

An worldwide research team, including Oxford University scientists and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, has been scouring the region's ancient lake beds for signs of what life was like tens of thousands of years ago.

"Tracing the evolution and geographic dispersal of the human lineage is rather like connecting pitifully few dots on a vast three-dimensional grid of time and space", Henry wrote in an essay that accompanies the study.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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