The oldest homo sapiens fossil ever discovered in Saudi Arabia means the first human migration out of Africa was much more geographically widespread than originally thought, a new study suggests, according to a USA Today report.
The report said the fossil, an adult human's finger bone, dates back to 90,000 years ago, when the region's barren desert was green grassland.
According to Science, a team of archaeologists and anthropologists scoured the Arabian Desert for about 10 years for evidence that some of the earliest humans once traversed these former green lands.
Now, a human finger bone uncovered in Saudi Arabia in 2016 has been dated to about 88,000 years old, making it the oldest directly dated fossil of our species found outside Africa or its immediate vicinity in the eastern Mediterranean.
According to Science, the discovery supports the idea that early modern humans spread into Eurasia earlier and more often than many previously believed.
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 New York in Stony Brook who studies human origins, but wasn’t involved in the study.
“This isn’t one of those cases where someone dashed off into the field, found something after a day or two of fieldwork, and then ran to the media with it,” he says. “They earned this find the old-fashioned way: hard work.”
But Science reports that several competing theories explain when and by what routes our earliest ancestors migrated out of Africa after they evolved there as early as 300,000 years ago. For decades, the fossil evidence favored the hypothesis that anatomically modern humans stayed on the continent, with an occasional jaunt into neighboring Israel, for hundreds of thousands of years until a wave of migrants swept into Eurasia—and then throughout the world—between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago.