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Expand chart
Data: Sites compiled from various science journals; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The stories of our distant ancestors — when and how they evolved into the Homo sapiens we are now, and how they migrated and eventually populated the world, often center on an exodus of modern early humans from Africa about 60,000 years ago.

What's new: A growing number of researchers believe while there may have been a main migratory event then, recent findings and new technology reveal that groups likely traveled out of Africa and its bordering Levant region earlier than previously thought. The map above by Axios' Andrew Witherspoon shows some of these recent findings.

Recent findings

1. Al Wusta region of Saudi Arabia. This week, researchers announced they found what they believe is the oldest "directly dated" H. sapiens fossil — a finger bone, dated 88,000 years old via radioisotope testing. The team, led by Michael Petraglia and Huw Groucutt, also found stone artifacts and animal bones.

2. Mount Carmel, Israel. A ridge of teeth and part of an upper jaw that "appear to be human" (they named it "Misliya") was discovered in a cave there. The team, led by Israel Hershkovitz, dated the items as from 177,000–194,000 years ago, using microCT scans and 3D virtual models and compared it with other hominin fossils from Africa, Europe and Asia.

3. Lida Ajer cave site in West Sumatra, Indonesia. Kira Westaway and colleagues hunted down the site after it was first reported 120 years ago by Dutch paleo-anthropologist Eugene Dubois (of the "Java Man" fame), who had brought back some ancient teeth and drawings of the cave. They re-examined the teeth and found they are from H. sapiens that lived between 63,000–73,000 years ago.

4.  Dhofar Mountains in southern Oman. 800 artifacts believed to be roughly 106,000 years old were found in ancient riverbeds. They used a dating technique that measures how much radiation a mineral has absorbed over time. However, no fossils were found and while the authors say the artifacts' craftsmanship points to known African H. sapiens, others are not 100% sure it was not a different type of hominin.


5. Madjedbebe, a rock shelter in northern Australia. Researchers found a site with distinctive stone tool assemblage including grinding stones but no fossils. They dated the deposits near the artifacts to be around 65,000 years ago, using radiocarbon (14C) and other techniques.

6. Luna Cave,  Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China. A team found two "likely modern human teeth" (although there is debate on what stage those humans were at). Using multiple uranium testing, they estimate the teeth as between 70,200–127,000 years old.

7. Liujiang Cave, southern China. A modern skull was found in the Liujiang Cave and written about in a book "Human evolution in China" by Xinzhi Wu and Frank Poirier. Testing by different groups often yields different outcomes, but it's generally believed to be at least 68,000 years old but is possibly more than 100,000 years old.

Some perspectives

Chris Clarkson, archaeologist from University of Queensland in Australia, told Axios that the finger bone find from Arabia and other recent discoveries support some earlier migration.

" It remains unclear if this was part of a single migration wave or multiple waves, but the new study provides evidence for the right species in the right place at the right time for an eastward migration that went on to colonize Asia and Australia."

Richard Potts, paleoanthropologist and director of the Smithsonian Institution Museum of Natural History's Human Origins Program, told Axios earlier this week that in general paleoanthropologists think H. sapiens were located in the Levant region bordering Africa 100,000 to 130,000 years ago. And this, he says, indicates "a potentially widespread seepage of sapiens groups beyond Africa, even if only initial, temporary, and low-level in terms of population size."

"The finds in Arabia extend the known geographic area of this early dispersal of Homo sapiens, and it indicates that a distinctly sere area of Arabia today was sufficiently 'green' and wet to support human populations."

Go deeper

Tracking the pandemic's unequal impact

Expand chart
Data: Morning Consult/Axios; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

The pandemic was bound to hit the most economically vulnerable among us the hardest. New polling data from Morning Consult, out this morning, shows the degree to which those difficulties were more concentrated among people of color.

Catch up quick: The Morning Consult/Axios Inequality Index has tracked the economic experience of adults in three wage groups since May 2020. We began publishing the findings in May of this year, and six months in, we’re slicing the data a little differently — and looking at inequality between ethnicities.

2 hours ago - Health

WHO says Omicron poses "very high" risk

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaking in Geneva in October. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

The World Health Organization said Monday in a new risk assessment that it believes the COVID-19 Omicron variant poses a "very high" risk to the globe because it may be more transmissible than other strains of the virus.

Why it matters: Though the WHO acknowledged there are still many uncertainties associated with the variant, the agency said it believes the likelihood of potential further spread of Omicron around the world is "high."

Battle for the soul of a new web

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A well-funded and intensely motivated chunk of tech's hive mind is finding common cause in a vast new project: rebuilding the web on a foundation of cryptocurrency and blockchain tech. They call it "Web3."

The big picture: Developers, investors and early adopters imagine a future in which the technologies that enable Bitcoin and Ethereum will break up the concentrated power today's tech giants wield and usher in a golden age of individual empowerment and entrepreneurial freedom.