April 21, 2018

Finger bone points to early humans in Arabian Peninsula

11 April 2018, 11:22 | Erma Lawrence

Finger bone points to early humans in Arabian Peninsula

Finger bone points to new insight on human migration

"The Arabian Peninsula has always been considered to be far from the main stage of human evolution", said Michael Petraglia, the project lead. Now, they may have it.

The finding is the oldest human fossil on record unearthed outside of Africa and the Levant (an area encompassing the Eastern Mediterranean, including Israel), and the oldest human remains uncovered in Saudi Arabia, the researchers said.

The bone is the oldest fossil of Homo Sapiens species to ever be found outside of Africa and the Levant or the present Middle-East. "They earned this find the old-fashioned way: hard work". But this newly-discovered bone suggests that people migrated out of Africa in multiple different phases, at least 20,000 years earlier than we thought.

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. It is also the first ancient human fossil from the Arabian Peninsula.

"Traditionally the movement of modern humans - our species, Homo sapiens - out of Africa has been conceived of as a single rapid movement 60,000 years ago", said Prof Petraglia, noting that this view was supported by genetic evidence. Others have argued there were several migrations in and out of Africa throughout this whole period.

"Humans repeatedly expanded into the Levant, into the doorstep of Africa, but we don't know what happened beyond that area", Groucutt said.

Huw Groucutt of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and his colleagues found the finger bone at a site called Al Wusta in what is now the Nefud Desert. "As fieldwork carries on, we continue to make remarkable discoveries in Saudi Arabia". Dozens of sharpened stone tools buried in the sediment hinted that it might be a special place. "He said, "This is a human finger, '" Groucutt recalls".

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

It was an intermediate phalanx, the bone between a fingertip and finger knuckle.

Researchers at Cambridge University concluded that the 3.2-centimeter finger belonged to Homo sapiens. Professional anatomists analyzed 3D scans of the bone and concluded that it was a match for our own species, rather than another early hominins such as Neandertals or a member of Australopithecus.

The finger bone, obviously human, was then subjected to a method called uranium-series dating that uses a laser to measure the ratio between tiny traces of radioactive elements. The results of this study were published today in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Our species first appeared in Africa roughly 300,000 years ago, research shows.

John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, says the authors have convincingly shown the finger bone is likely a hominin of some sort. That's because humans have long and thin fingers compared with Neanderthals, who were also alive at that time, he said.

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