An international group of archaeologists announced the discovery of a fossilized human finger bone about 85,000 years old in a desert in Saudi Arabia. The piece could not only become the oldest of our species found outside Africa, but supports the idea that the first modern humans spread to Eurasia earlier and more often than previously thought.
The bone, 3.2 centimeters long, was obtained in 2016 during the archaeological excavation of Al Wusta, in the desert of Al Nefud, north of the Arabian peninsula. The discovery was made by paleontologist Iyad Zalmout, says the research published Monday in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
Although it is difficult to identify a species by only one finger, the sample was subjected to a computed tomography and compared with other bony fossils of primates and archaic humans. Finally, researchers from the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom) concluded that it was the middle phalanx of the middle finger of a Homo sapiens.
Subsequently, an analysis with uranium revealed the age of the bone fragment, dated to about 85,000 years, and may be the strongest fossil evidence until now of humans leaving Africa much earlier than several theories have pointed out.
“This discovery is for me a dream come true and is compatible with the arguments of what our team has been doing for more than 10 years,” says Michael Petraglia, co-author of the study and archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (Germany).
For decades, fossil evidence favored the hypothesis that anatomically modern humans stayed on the African continent for hundreds of thousands of years until a wave of migrants reached Eurasia and then the entire world between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago.
“This finding, along with others in recent years, suggests that modern humans, Homo sapiens, moved from Africa several times at different times when they had a chance, for the last 100,000 years or so,” concludes Petraglia.