A fossilized human middle finger was found in Saudi Arabia that dates back to 88,000 years ago. This would make it the oldest human fossil found outside Africa and the Levant.
Research could show that the first human migration out of Africa was more widespread than previously thought.
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History have published the study in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. They discovered the fossilized finger bone of an early modern human in the Nefud Desert.
The fossil was discovered by chance. Iyad Zalmout, one of the authors of the study, spotted the fossilized finger while he went on a walk during the excavation of the Al Wusta archaeological dig.
Researchers at Cambridge University concluded that the 3.2-centimeter finger belonged to Homo sapiens. It was then taken to researchers at the Australian National University and it underwent several dating techniques where they concluded that the fossil was 88,000 years old.
Researchers say that this shows that human migration wasn't just restricted to the Levant, which had forest environment, changing the view that attempts to move away from the Levant were unsuccessful.
Scientists once thought that humans moved out of Africa within a single period of about 50,000 to 70,000 years ago. They believed that those groups traveled up the coast from the marine environment to sustain themselves. This fossil discovery means that this timeline would have to be moved up around 20,000 to 25,000 years earlier.
This would change the migration patterns from a single migration to humans migrating multiple times over the last 100,000 years. Recent findings have also indicated this scenario to scientists. Genetic studies show that humans may have made it to Eastern Asia as early as 80,000 years ago.
Findings show that humans first emerged in Africa 260,000 to 350,000 years ago. The earliest human fossils in the Levant date to 177,000 years ago from a fossil in Misliya Cave in Israel.
This begins a debate as to whether there was a possible second migration route through the Red Sea into Arabia.
Newer discoveries being made are changing the way scientists are looking at previous ideas of human migration. Each discovery is pushing back the date of when humans started leaving Africa. Some estimates have already moved 60,000 years to match with the fossil record.
During the time when the finger fossil owner was still alive, the Al Wusta site was a freshwater lake in an ancient grassland environment.