Finger bone points to early humans in Arabian Peninsula

According to The Guardian, the bone has been dated to approximately 90,000 years ago, making it the oldest directly dated human fossil outside of Africa and the Levant.

A lone finger bone unearthed in the desert suggests modern humans had penetrated deep into Arabia 85,000 years ago.

"It's a discovery that we've been expecting for a while", said Robyn Inglis, an archaeologist at the University of York in England who was not involved in the research.

Palaeontologist Julien Louys from Griffith University said the discovery showed that modern humans were out of Africa and the nearby Levant region by about 85,000 or 90,000 years ago.

The finding indicates modern humans travelled to follow kinder climates, but they did not stay indefinitely.

Although some say it's hard to identify our species, Homo sapiens, by a single bone, the findings appear unimpeachable, says John Shea, an anthropologist at the State University of NY in Stony Brook who studies human origins, but wasn't involved in the study. The region where it was found is a small isthmus that connects Africa with Asia. But at the time when this ancient person lived, the Arabian Peninsula was nearly alien from what it is today.

In 2014, they discovered a site named Al Wusta in Saudi Arabia's arid Nefud Desert that once sat on the banks of a large freshwater lake.

The worldwide study backed by the Saudi government had been searching the vast desert for signs of early life.

The single fossil finger bone of Homo sapiens - pictured from various angles - from the Al Wusta site, Saudi Arabia is pictured in this undated handout composite photo obtained by Reuters April 9, 2018.

"I said: 'What could this be?" This is 100,000 years older than previously discovered fossils of Homo sapiens that have been securely dated. Back at the camp they compared it with images of Neanderthal finger bones, but it was much longer and thinner. There they found the middle bone of a middle finger. Though measuring no more than 3cm, the finger bone has big implications for our understanding of early human history.

"These studies very strongly demonstrated that this finger bone belongs to a member of our species, Homo sapiens", Groucutt said.

"They're coming up against animals that they've never seen before; environments they've never seen before", he said. Researchers bored a microscopic hole into it with a laser and measured traces of radioactive elements within. When the bone was buried, it absorbed uranium, which can be measured and provide a minimum age estimate. The results put the age of the finger bone at about 88,000 years old - a figure backed up by dating of the associated sediments and animal fossils.

Stone tools that hunter-gatherers used also were found.

Dr María Martinón-Torres, director of the Spanish National Research Centre for Human Evolution, said it has drawn a line in the sand regarding what we can now focus our research on. Recent findings have also indicated this scenario to scientists. There could have been many early human migrations, not just the major one and one potential earlier one. But, he added, "the rain is coming".

  • Joey Payne