85,000-year-old fossil discovered in Saudi Arabia

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An 85,000-year-old piece of phalanx, belonging to our ancestor Homo sapiens, was found in the desert of Saudi Arabia. It is the oldest human remains discovered outside Africa and the Levant.

It is a small fragment of phalanx, probably that of a major, found in the heart of the Nefoud desert in Saudi Arabia. It measures little more than three centimeters but gives essential indications to understand the exodus of our ancestors from Africa and the population of the globe.

In an article published in Nature ecology and evolution on April 9th, an international team of researchers led by Michael Petraglia of the Department of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute in Jena, Germany, presents this small piece of bone as the oldest remains of Homo sapiens discovered outside Africa and the Levant, with an age of 85,000 years.

One of the strengths of this discovery is the scientists’ ability to date the bone directly, not the sediments surrounding it. It is therefore an absolute certainty: 85,000 years ago, the Nefoud desert (which was to be much more hospitable than today), more than 2,000 km from the African coast, was populated by some of our ancestors.

Until now, there was no evidence to suggest that sapiens had been further than the Mediterranean coast of the Levant at that time. This is a new piece that is brought to the puzzle, still very incomplete.

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Over the last several years, discoveries on the migration of man’s earliest ancestors have multiplied, constantly pushing back in time the exit out of Africa. Last January, this date was pushed back by more than 60,000 years with the discovery of a jaw dating from a period between 177,000 and 194,000 years on the archaeological site of Mislya, in the north of Israel, near the city of Haifa.

No remnants of sapiens dating back to 194,000 years have ever been found outside of Africa. Outside of this date, several discoveries make it possible to draw a still fragmentary map of the history of the first human migrations.

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Shakes Gilles

Editor of The Talking Democrat. He enjoys bike riding, kayaking and playing soccer. On a slow weekend, you'll find him with a book by the lake.