Saudi Arabia’s Commission for Tourism and National Heritage has claimed that its team of archaeologists – in collaboration with researchers from Oxford University – have unearthed a 90,000-year-old human bone close to the northern Saudi town of Tayma. Said to be the middle section of a middle finger, the discovery – if confirmed – indicates that humans left Africa at least 30,000 years earlier than previously thought.
According to conventional wisdom, mankind made its first voyage out of Africa around 60,000 years ago – some 140,000 years after Homo sapiens first emerged. However, Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz threw cold water over this theory when announcing the new finding during a recent speech at the French Academie des Beaux Arts.
Not only would the bone represent the oldest human body part ever unearthed, it also rewrites the entire migratory history of our species. However, while the discovery would indeed suggest that Homo sapiens had reached the Arabian Peninsula earlier than the Out of Africa hypothesis allows, it doesn’t justify the bizarre claim made by Ali Ghabban, head of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, that the relic proves that human life dates back 325,000 years.
The discovery could also help researchers clarify the route that humans took when leaving Africa. At present, there are two major schools of thought on this issue, with some scholars believing that our ancestors entered Eurasia via Egypt and Sinai, while others suggest that they travelled through Ethiopia and Arabia.
Although no bones belonging to modern humans have yet been discovered anywhere in the world that predate this finding, the remains of other extinct Homo species have been found. The oldest of these is a jawbone – complete with a row of teeth – that was discovered in Ethiopia and is believed to be 2.8 million years old. Researchers have yet to pinpoint exactly which early human species the bone belongs to, though it shares a number of characteristics with both Homo habilis and Australopithecus afarensis.