Humans may have left Africa for Eurasia earlier than believed
These small hand axes are at least 100,000 years old. A team of scientists found these tools in the United Arab Emirates.
January 27th, 2011
03:45 PM ET

Humans may have left Africa for Eurasia earlier than believed

Scientists have discovered new evidence suggesting that modern humans first left Africa to explore Eurasia much earlier than previously thought.

An international team of scientists has uncovered a tool kit that indicates that modern humans, who looked and perhaps behaved much like us, must have lived in eastern Arabia about 100,000 to 125,000 years ago. The collection of small hand axes, scrapers and other tools was found in Jebel Faya, United Arab Emirates. A report about the discovery appears in the journal Science.

The people who made these tools "are our ancestors, I have no doubt about that," said Hans-Peter Uerpmann, of the University of Tubingen in Germany, who collaborated on the project, at a press teleconference Wednesday.

But the findings still do not prove definitively that modern humans made these tools, as the researchers did not find human remains near them, said Ted Goebel, anthropologist at Texas A&M University, who was not involved in the study. They potentially could have been made by Neanderthals or Neanderthal-like hominids, who were already in Eurasia at that time, Goebel said.

Previous research suggested that modern humans first left Africa along the coast by way of the Indian Ocean rim about 60,000 years ago, based on genetic evidence.

But the tool kit suggests that humans arrived on the Arabian Peninsula much earlier. Scientists say the tool shapes, indicative of what would have been made in Africa, indicate that humans did not need technological innovation to get there.

Stanley Ambrose, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois who was not involved in the research, agreed that the structure of the axes found at the site are indicative of human-made objects from East Africa.

But, as Goebel said, human skeletons are needed to prove the connection.

"It's in Africa they produce hand axes, but also what are called foliates, leaf-shaped bifacial pieces. These simply do not occur in the rest of southwest Asia," Anthony Marks, study co-author and retired professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas said at the teleconference.

Instead, the researchers say, environmental factors aided the humans' departure. There was a global ice age between 200,000 and 130,000 years ago, during which global sea levels fell and desert belts expanded, Marks said. During that time, modern humans would have had to stay in East Africa, as it would have been hard to cross the deserts.

But then, warmer temperatures came in about 130,000 years ago in the "interglacial" period, giving way to savanna grasses with lakes and rivers. Around that time, Marks said, the southern Red Sea had water levels about 328 feet (100 meters) lower than what's found there today, and was also much narrower. This would have facilitated an easier crossing into Arabia.

The humans could have walked, or used rafts or boats, which they were capable of making, Uerpmann said. Their descendants may have moved toward the Persian Gulf, which was smaller then, and into Mesopotamia, or eastward along the Iranian coast to the Indian subcontinent, he said.

Although there has been extensive genetic study pointing to humans' departure 60,000 years ago, there is no archaeological evidence for this, Marks said. Genetics give a sequence of happenings, but cannot say how and when the events occurred, Uerpmann said. The archaeological record is better than genetics for this reason, he said.

Still, Goebel says he is cautious because the method for dating in the study, called luminescence dating, is not much more precise than extrapolating dates from genetics, and gives a large range of possible dates of origin for objects.

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Filed under: History • Science
soundoff (215 Responses)
  1. anne

    Why all the fuss? After lots of money and research, the best you get in this article is "may have" and "could have"; and everyone argues as if it's all a "definite". Scientists are great at this; and by the way, religious leaders do the same.
    It's all a sham and a mockery...a shamockery I says!

    January 27, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • aaron

      No "may" or "might have" from religious leaders. That would be honest at least. They Speak the word of GOD and that is that. Pride is a sin, is it not?

      January 27, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • anne

      aaron, I've heard plenty of religious leaders use the phrase "...God could have done this or that" as a rational argument to explain the wonders of His/Her creation. Why just recently the pope said God could have created aliens, which "could" make them our brothers in creation.
      Gotta go, my bong hit is packed.

      January 27, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      "Scientists are great at this; and by the way, religious leaders do the same" No that is not true.. Scientists will always say their current theory is subject to further observation and phrase their statements in "this is the best we know now". Religious beliefs are never subject modification based of further observation because it is based on the un-observable.

      January 27, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      It's only sham if the scientists said it was definitive. As they didn't, it's nothing more than an educated guess, or THEORY, which by definition could change if more evidence comes to light.

      January 27, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jesse m

    The human picture is getting bigger and it seems everyday they push the age of modern humans further back in time it could be that we are a not as new a species as everyone thought we may be very old i hope they find more im interested.

    January 27, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Scientificpoetry

    How can this be... according to the bible the world is only 5-6 thousand years old... Doh! The beauty of science is its humility. Science asks to be challenged and theories are thrown out or changed based on better information. Religion on the other hand is static – because you're not allowed to question it or challenge it. That's because faith is believing in something without evidence. Once you start challenging Religious beliefs and those in charge can't give you any evidence... it all falls apart.

    January 27, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Il Duce

      You Sir, are entirely correct!

      January 27, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Il Duce

      I'm like George Carlin, I started worshipping the sun because I could at least see it. But, when I found that nothing happened when I prayed to the sun, I started worshipping Joe Pesci because I know he's a guy that can get $hyt done!

      January 27, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Richie

      I believe we were always here. Maybe a little smaller than now but we were here longer than though.

      January 27, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Donny

      George Carlin was a servant of satan, repent sinners. Science is the Devils work. He is tricking you.

      January 27, 2011 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Just a KId w/ an opinion

      umm hey idiots if GOD DOESN'T EXIST NEITHER DO YOU!!!

      January 27, 2011 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rod Venger

      Odd...though I know some people believe it to be so, I have yet to read anything in the Bible that says the Earth is only 5-6,000 years old. Some Baptists I know have made the claim and a whole lot of God-fearing God-deniers have made use of it to their own ends, but fact is, the Bible itself doesn't say it. Frightened people will say the oddest things in order to stay in the darkness.

      January 27, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • JAB

      @Rod Venger - Well put!

      January 28, 2011 at 9:44 am | Report abuse |
  4. Gunaunuanguan

    This clearly indicates that first man walk on early was in exactly 124735466 years ago. Good job.

    January 27, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • jhuyruo

      Hey Einstein, how do you comeup with this?

      January 27, 2011 at 8:21 pm | Report abuse |
  5. book burning locomotive

    that makes no sense earth is two thousand years old.

    January 27, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. TripleA

    Scientists are not sure if humans made these tools. Maybe if the scientists found crude, flint beer bottles with the tools we could prove humans were responsible.

    January 27, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Morgana

    These people who are saying "just rocks" simply don't know what they're talking about. On the other hand, i have a similar rock in front of me, dated at 100,000 years and from a site which has been suggested to be as much as 200,000 years old, and guess where it is? Calico, California. That would be about 20 times deeper into history than previous estimates for the region. The weird thing is, this site is well known, why is this article such a surprise, especially when they are suggesting "modern humans" despite lack of remains of any kind. So, everyone religious, scientific or otherwise: Let's just slow down and get all of the evidence before making wild and unfounded claims about the VERY VERY long history of this incredible planet where modern humans(that's us) are just infants.

    January 27, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Richie

      we are just mere humans. think we know everything. Wrong way wrong

      January 27, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Richie

      I have a five gallon bucket full of such rocks dug up by my father decades ago in Texas. Also funny is that my name is Morgan.

      January 27, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Allan

      @ Richie

      But as was pointed out, it is not about the shape of the rocks as yes, they could be found naturally. It is about the small marks that show that someone shaped the rock by hitting it with another rock or a stick. That cannot be done naturally but requires someone, an ape/human to hit the rock.

      January 27, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rod Venger


      I also have a "rock" from California. It's flint, obviously a hand tool, even has a depression in it to fit the pad of one's thumb in the palm of a LEFT hand. It's interesting and I dug it up below the Top of Topanga in the late 60's.

      The trouble with dating a rock is that it only tells you the age of the rock. I've never thought to have mine dated and it's not really important. Question old is the tool? I suppose I'd have to turn it over to an "expert" for that, and it's not going to happen. I've kept it for this long by not giving it to others to play with. Just took a photo of it, you can find it on Facebook.

      January 27, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Watchthemdrift

    Does anyone else realize that "These small hand axes are at least 100,000 years old." is actually the same hand axe just rotated. If they can't get that right why would I believe they're 100,000 years old?

    January 27, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • JL

      Good catch. I believe you're right, it's the same rock. This article is definitely one big fairy tale. Ever notice how the bible keeps being right while remaining the same and these "scientists" keep proving each other wrong while constantly changing. Why would anyone buy what they're selling?

      January 27, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mr. Davidson

      A million years before they chipped flint rocks to an edge the rock was just attached to a stick of wood ,or handle.One million years before that they had changed the way it attached to the handle ,and before that separate stick and rock. True story.

      January 27, 2011 at 8:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Archaeologist

      Those pictures ARE of the same handaxe, showing front, back, and cross-section. This is standard in archaeology. They refer to "handaxes" in the text because they found several of them, but are only showing 1 handaxe from all sides because there is only so much room to publish pictures.

      January 27, 2011 at 11:53 pm | Report abuse |
  9. af

    @gg. Lol

    January 27, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Vivan

    So was this prehistoric "white flight"?

    January 27, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
  11. joe van wrinkled foreskin

    its soooooo obvious that some god(s) put those "tools" there to test our faith.

    January 27, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
  12. book burning locomotive

    satan created dinosaur bones

    January 27, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • the truth

      its true earth is two thousand years old

      January 27, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Donny

      Adam and eve were white. I saw them at The Creation Museum.

      January 27, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
  13. donimus

    Its incredible how people still won't embrace the fact that humanity started in East Africa – whats the problem? I have no problem that the first blue eyed baby was born in the Caucauses region about 5,000 yrs ago. So that baby came from Russia big deal, the rest of us came from Africa deal with it, and move on.

    January 27, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Adahy

      If we all came out of East Africa 60,000 years ago, explain these 100,000 year old tools in California...
      Open your mind.
      Google: Calico Early Man Site (among others)

      January 28, 2011 at 1:51 am | Report abuse |
  14. Richie

    We humans base everything we know on facts we find. But the facts we find are mere seconds of the universe. I'm not pea brained enouh to think we are the only living things in the universe. I think enteligent life has avoided us because they are smart. .... lol

    January 27, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
  15. starman2112

    You guys must be confused right? According to creationists the Earth is only 6K years old so therefor we were using saddles to ride dinosaurs RAWR!!!

    January 27, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Report abuse |
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