Once out of Africa, early human migration was widespread

“The climatic shifts that the earliest members of our species must have faced shows just how tough and resilient they were,” Dr Price said

It is the second bone in from the fingertip, but it's not clear which finger. "That night back at the hotel, we were Googling 'human finger bone" and, yeah, it looked like our species".

They were able to date the bone directly, using precise techniques that rely on the decay of radioactive uranium. 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.

For years, archaeologists assumed early humans migrated out of Africa in a straightforward path with several stops along the way.

In January this year, a team led by Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University in Israel and Mina Weinstein-Evron of the University of Haifa, Israel unveiled a human jawbone from Israel that was 177,000 years old.

"It really challenges that idea that humans only left 60,000 years ago", he said.

Nevertheless, many archaeologists believe the Levant was a bottleneck and that humans did not travel further until 70,000 years ago.

The ancient fossils ever found was 120,000 years old, found in China but their human origin was not dated precisely so far.

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It is the oldest fossil belonging to homo sapien found outside of Africa and the Levant (a historical region encompassing what is now Syria), and the first ancient human fossil discovered in Saudi Arabia. It shows that our ancestors progressed beyond the Levant "bottleneck" much earlier than thought, creating a new staging post in Saudi Arabia from which they could push on into the rest of Asia.

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.

People may have settled Arabia at this early date because it was an appealing place to live.

During the time when the finger fossil owner was still alive, the Al Wusta site was a freshwater lake in an ancient grassland environment. Numerous animal fossils, including those of hippopotamus and tiny fresh water snails were found at Al Wusta, as well as abundant stone tools made by humans.

Dr Price is part of an worldwide research project, headed by Germany's Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, that discovered the fossilised finger bone at Al Wusta, an ancient fresh-water lake in what is now the Nefud Desert.

This begins a debate as to whether there was a possible second migration route through the Red Sea into Arabia.

"But now, with the fossil finger bone from the site of Al Wusta in Saudi Arabia, we have a find that's 85,000 to 90,000 years old, which suggests that Homo sapiens is moving out of Africa far earlier than 60,000 years ago", Petraglia told reporters at a news conference. If the findings hold up, she says, they fit nicely with other lines of evidence pointing to multiple out-of-Africa migrations.

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