"These studies very strongly demonstrated that this finger bone belongs to a member of our species, Homo sapiens", Groucutt said.
Two things make it unusually significant.
Scientists believe early people left Africa a couple of times after evolving there at least 300,000 years ago. In the Fuyan Cave, for instance, teeth were found among mineral deposits that were at least 80,000 years old.
Nevertheless, many archaeologists believe the Levant was a bottleneck and that humans did not travel further until 70,000 years ago.
'This find, together with other finds in the last few years, suggests ...
He and others report the discovery Monday in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
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The discovery highlights the new approach of scientists who are calling for new understanding of how our species came out of Africa en route to colonizing the world. Their hunch paid off 2 years later, when study co-author and paleontologist Iyad Zalmout of the Saudi Geological Survey in Jeddah found a small bone stuck in the sediment. We then used a technique called geometric morphometrics to compare the fine details of the fossil's shape with the same part from many humans, extinct hominins and non-human primates to confirm it really was from an ancient human. "It was that distinctive". During this period they scoured the region for signs of early humans, seeing it as a natural "stepping stone" for humans leaving Africa. This is how the researchers dated the fossil and found that the finger bone was approximately 88,000 years old.
The team found fossils of animals, including hippos, as well as advanced stone tools.
Using a laser, he and his colleagues drilled seven microscopic holes into the bone. The analysis showed that that bone was about 87,600 years old, give or take 2,500 years.
This finger wasn't just an interesting find in its own right.
That's what Huw Groucutt, a paleoarchaeologist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, and his team were looking for when they began excavating sites in the Arabian Desert more than 10 years ago. Instead, monsoon rains had transformed the area into a grassland with freshwater lakes and rivers.
"And, of course, hunters and gatherers would have been following those animals", Petraglia said.
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Questions remain over the fate of the early inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula.
The findings demonstrate that climate change aided the spread of our species earlier than previously thought.
Groucutt said the discovery of the fossilized finger builds on these discoveries, and also argued that his team's direct dating methods made this discovery the most reliable.
It's a convincing story that changes our view of Homo sapiens' emergence from Africa, according to University of Tulsa anthropologist Donald Henry, who was not involved in the new work.
Some have tried to reconcile these findings with the late-exodus narrative by claiming there may have been an early, but ultimately doomed, first wave migration out of Africa some 120,000 years ago, after which humans more or less stayed put on the continent for another 60,000 years.
Today, this is where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden. In January, another group of researchers announced the discovery of a 194,000-year-old modern human jawbone in Israel's Misliya Cave, Live Science previously reported.
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Tests revealed it could only belong to a human and that the bone was robust - pointing to a history of manual labour.