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The first early human migration out of Africa and into Eurasia may have been much more widespread than previously thought, according to a new fossil discovery in Saudi Arabia.

"This find, together with other finds in the last few years, suggest that modern humans, Homo sapiens, are moving out of Africa multiple times during many windows of opportunity during the last 100,000 years or so", he said.

An global research team, including Oxford University scientists and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, has been scouring the region's ancient lake beds for signs of what life was like tens of thousands of years ago.

Found at a site known as Al Wusta in the middle of the hyper-arid Nefud desert, the bone is the culmination of a decade's work by Prof Petraglia and his colleagues.

Dr Mathieu Duval, of Griffith University, part of the global research team that found the fossil, told nine.com.au it points to humans beginning movement from Africa at a much earlier date than conventionally thought. It contradicts received wisdom concerning the history of humanity, suggesting instead that people were spreading far and wide 30,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Numerous animal fossils were discovered, including hippos, wild cattle, antelopes and ostriches, University of Oxford archeologist Huw Groucutt said. "Still, I doubt whether anyone can identify a single isolated finger bone as a modern human, as opposed to any other form of hominin", such as Neandertal, he says.

What they found was a fossilised human finger - the middle bone of the middle finger to be exact. The test compared the bone with more than 200 finger bones belonging to humans; extinct hominins like Neanderthals and the "hobbit", Homo floresiensis; and non-human primates like gorillas and chimpanzees. Others have argued there were several migrations in and out of Africa throughout this whole period.

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 NY in Stony Brook who studies human origins, but wasn't involved in the study.

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"They're coming up against animals that they've never seen before; environments they've never seen before", he said.

To determine the age of the bone, the team conducted uranium series dating. Moreover, the researchers uncovered human-made stone tools there.

Dr María Martinón-Torres, director of the Spanish National Research Centre for Human Evolution, said it has drawn a line in the sand regarding what we can now focus our research on.

A basic visual examination suggested it belonged to Homo sapiens, Groucutt said.

"Humans repeatedly expanded into the Levant, into the doorstep of Africa, but we don't know what happened beyond that area", Groucutt said.

This is the latest discovery reminding us that we still don't have a complete timeline of early human migration.

"This fossil is just a piece of a whole skeleton, like a drop of rain", Bahameem said.


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