A finger bone, found in the Nefud desert in Saudi Arabia, suggests that Homo sapiens had already reached the interior of the peninsula 85,000 years ago, according to a study published Monday in Nature Ecology & Evolution.
Homo sapiens, also called modern man, appeared in Africa more than 300,000 years ago. It has long been thought that he arrived in the area much later, about 60,000 years ago.
But in recent years, discoveries, such as the one announced Monday, question this theory.
According to this latest study, the bone that “undeniably belonged to a modern man” would be at least 85,000 years old, perhaps even 90,000 years old.
A discovery which implies that “our species has dispersed out of Africa much earlier than previously thought,” says Huw Groucutt of Oxford University, co-author of the study.
A unique discovery, according to the team of researchers
With a length of only 3.2 centimeters, the fossil, probably the median bone of a major, was discovered in 2016.
To define his age, Huw Groucutt and his team used radiometric dating, which is the measure of the regular variation over time of radioactive elements.
This bone is said to be the oldest “directly dated” Homo sapiens fossil discovered outside of Africa, according to the team that argues that others who can compete with it are only through the sediments surrounding them.
There have been multiple dispersions of human beings out of Africa, the migratory movement and colonization of Eurasia have been much more complicated than our textbooks say.
Michael Petraglia, Department of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute in Germany and co-author of the research
According to the dominant theory, Homo sapiens left Africa in a major wave 60,000 years ago, along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea to the east.
But this finger shows “that modern humans were moving in the land of Eurasia, not along the coast,” says researcher Michael Petraglia.