A single human finger bone from at least 86,000 years ago points to Arabia as a key destination for Stone Age excursions out of Africa that allowed people to rapidly spread across Asia.
Excavations at Al Wusta, a site in Saudi Arabia’s Nefud desert, produced this diminutive discovery. It’s the oldest known Homo sapiens fossil outside of Africa and the narrow strip of the Middle East that joins Africa with Asia, based on dating of the bone itself, says a team led by archaeologists Huw Groucutt and Michael Petraglia. This new find strengthens the idea that early human dispersals out of Africa began well before the traditional estimated departure time of 60,000 years ago and extended deep into Arabia, the scientists report April 9 in Nature Ecology & Evolution.
“Although long considered to be far from the main stage of human evolution, Arabia was a stepping stone from Africa into Asia,” says Petraglia, of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany.