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Fossil bone of what scientists believe is part of a Homo sapiens' middle finger found in the Al Wusta site in Saudi Arabia. Photo: Ian Cartwright

An international team of scientists say they have found the oldest Homo sapiens fossil outside of Africa and the Levant corridor — suggesting that early humans left Africa 20,000–25,000 years before most earlier evidence suggested.

Why it matters: The finding published in Nature Ecology and Evolution Monday supports the view that rather than migrating out of Africa 60,000 years ago in a single large migration, small groups of early humans may have left the continent earlier and in more complicated patterns than previously thought.

What the team found: After searching a site in the Al Wusta region of Saudi Arabia for nearly 10 years, they found part of a finger bone in 2016 along with hundreds of artifacts like stone tools and various types of animal fossils, including hippos. "It was like a dream come true," Michael Petraglia, one of the study authors, told reporters during a press conference.

How they tested it: They directly dated the fossil using radioisotopes, which they say is more reliable than solely testing the surrounding sediment or artifacts. They also tested the surrounding sediment, animal fossils and artifacts at independent laboratories and found the ages roughly matched.

The testing "very strongly demonstrates" the bone is from an early human, according to University of Oxford's Huw Groucutt, another study author who also spoke at the press briefing. Not only did labs confirm this, but the boneshape is much longer and thinner than Neanderthal fingers, he said.

Yes, but: Richard Potts, paleoanthropologist and director of the Smithsonian Institution Museum of Natural History's Human Origins Program, says he agrees the bone is "probably" from a Homo sapiens but adds the claim that it is the oldest may downplay other recent findings in East Asia and Australia that also support the idea of smaller, periodic exits from Africa or its bordering Levant region.

The response: The authors say those prior studies are limited though because they either did not date the fossils directly (instead they tested associated layers of sediments and artifacts) or were unable to directly prove their fossils were Homo sapiens.

The big picture: "It's not just one single wave out of Africa 60,000 years ago," Petraglia said. "We're arguing here there were multiple dispersals out of Africa. The movement was far more complicated" than originally thought.

Go deeper

Scoop: Trump-backed Perdue says he wouldn’t have certified Georgia 2020 results

Perdue at a December 2020 campaign event in Columbus, Ga. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Georgia gubernatorial candidate David Perdue wouldn’t have signed the certification of the state’s 2020 election results if he had been governor at the time, the former Senate Republican told Axios.

  • “Not with the information that was available at the time and not with the information that has come out now. They had plenty of time to investigate this. And I wouldn’t have signed it until those things had been investigated and that’s all we were asking for," he said.

Why it matters: There has been no evidence widespread fraud took place in Georgia's elections last year and the November results were counted three times, once by hand.

Beijing Olympics: These countries have announced diplomatic boycotts

Photo: Zhang Qiang/VCG via Getty Images

Several countries, including Canada and Australia, have announced they will join the U.S. in a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics to protest human rights abuses committed by China's government.

Driving the news: Leaders have faced pressure from human rights groups and others to boycott the Games, pointing to the ongoing genocide of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China's Xinjiang region and other abuses.

Biden directs federal government to become carbon neutral by 2050

President Biden speaking to reporters outside of the White House on Dec. 8.

President Biden signed an executive order Wednesday that requires the federal government achieve multiple goals related to reducing its carbon emissions, including achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Why it matters: Meeting the objectives of the order would require a massive investment by the federal government to buy electric vehicles, upgrade buildings and change how it procures electricity.