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. banasy

    @Donny:
    Benny's on. Get your checkbook out so you can finance his next trip to Italy to annoint the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

    January 28, 2011 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Donny

      Send him a check? no need, I have my check card set up for the automatic giving plan. For doing this I recieved a set of two Jerusalem Candlesticks, FOR FREE!!!! You can find the link on his website if you would like to sign up.

      January 28, 2011 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
  2. banasy

    This is a really fascinating thread...thanks!

    January 28, 2011 at 12:18 am | Report abuse |
  3. banasy

    Hahahahahaha! Second best comment tonight!

    January 28, 2011 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
  4. Al

    The world came into existence on July 18, 1948, when I was born. Any other definition of reality is bogus.

    January 28, 2011 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |
  5. Adahy

    Dear uninformed masses: Just so you know, science is also based on mythilogical forces that can not be observed, touched, tested, or proven. I don't see why science and spirituality (not religion) can not coexist.
    Example A: Dark Matter. The lynchpin in modern astrophysics, and yet we can not prove it exists, much like God, and still it is considered THE explanation.
    Example B: Inflation (cosmological). Cosmological inflation is how scientists explain our universe's size since the big bang. It supposedly caused the universe to grow by a factor of 10(78th power) in the span of 2 trillionths of a millisecond shortly after the bang. Inflation is also not testable, observable, or reproducible. Inflation in itself breaks many laws of physics, such as the speed of light, but without it, the Big Bang is not possible, so it is accepted. LOOK IT UP. INFORM YOURSELVES.
    Stop letting the T.V. and idiotic fluff stories on the internet think for you.

    January 28, 2011 at 12:52 am | Report abuse |
  6. oleg

    today's science is delusional and does not want to break out of its box. humans have existed for billions of years. evolution was invented some 150 years ago, and the scientists are trying to fit everything into "evolution" frame. whatever goes against evolution, is dismissed. evolution is wrong.

    January 28, 2011 at 1:04 am | Report abuse |
    • There are no gods!

      evolution is only wrong to you because you refuse to THINK about the real possibility of humans coming from such minute particles to what we are now. I know it is hard for you prehistoric brain but do try to keep up. Your pathetic misunderstanding of life is making life for the rest of us difficult please step off before you make some one sick with your lack of foresight.

      January 28, 2011 at 1:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Adahy

      @their
      It appears as though you are being the closed minded one here. Oleg didn't even mention God in this post, he was just saying to think outside the box, whichever box that may be.
      Even scientists know that challenging their own theories is integral in learning and discovery. Why do you speak as if it is all figured out and is absolute truth? No one believes that, not scientists nor spiritual people (not even those of us that ore both)
      Wa-do

      January 28, 2011 at 1:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Donna

      Oleg: You lash out at scientists for dismissing things that don't fit current theory when you are posting on a story ABOUT scientists describing evidence that challenges current theory. That, my friend, falls in the category of delusional. Science is fueled by challenging existing beliefs. The industry wouldn't persist if scientists had the habit of doing what you say they do. Scientists who make new discoveries, and think outside the box, get published and get jobs.
      Humans haven't lived for billions of years- the earth is only 4-5 billion years old itself. And evolution isn't "wrong;" evolution is an observable fact and it simply means that the genetic pool changes over time.

      January 28, 2011 at 2:56 am | Report abuse |
  7. Philip

    @Adehy and Oleg...very well put. The big-bang theory is in fact full of holes filled in with general acceptance. For example, it cannot account for our universe being in clusters, and still expanding. The particle filament theory holds more water than the big bang. And neither of these would disprove creation anyhow.

    January 28, 2011 at 1:20 am | Report abuse |
  8. There are no gods!

    This article is a fake, every one knows that man did not live that long ago, and that jesus was the leader of all blah blah blah. . .Yet another nail in the coffin of you religious nut cases. There are no gods and you know it, jesus is a lie, and you know that to. There are no gods! jesus is a lie!

    January 28, 2011 at 1:29 am | Report abuse |
  9. banasy

    @Phillip,Adehy and Oleg…

    THIS, my friends, are why I keep reading and putting up with the devils and the trolls; I LEARN! I think! I thank you!

    Another fascinating thread-I really can't contribute anything...yet. 😉

    January 28, 2011 at 1:33 am | Report abuse |
  10. Felipe

    No comment about relegion or creation. I am more curious about if the tool kit (in photo) was purchased at a Home Depot 125,000 years ago.

    January 28, 2011 at 1:34 am | Report abuse |
  11. banasy

    No, I think it was Lowe's...pretty sure it was Lowe's.

    January 28, 2011 at 1:41 am | Report abuse |
  12. Gore in 2004

    God made global warming. Now give me a massage.

    January 28, 2011 at 1:47 am | Report abuse |
  13. Gore in 2004

    Actually, science does acount for why the universe is still expanding. Tune in to The Universe on the History Channel. Or just Netflix it. God wants you to.

    January 28, 2011 at 1:52 am | Report abuse |
  14. Philip

    @there are no...before the mid 1950s, evolution was not taught in our schools. After the 1953 Stanley Miller experiment results were released, Congress then allowed it. But what Congress and the schoolkids didn't know was that it was a sham. Miller concocted a mixture of chemicals he believed accurately represented how the earth was long ago...it's called 'prebiotic soup'. To immitate lightning, he passed an electric spark through the soup, and presto! amino acids, the basic bldg. block of life, formed. But what Miller didn't tell them was that each time the amino's formed, water in the soup dissolved them. So he made a 'trap-door' in his experiment so that the amino acids could be removed before water (the most powerful solvent known to man) dissolved them. (cont)

    January 28, 2011 at 1:53 am | Report abuse |
  15. pockets

    Now now we all know that god made adam and eve out of a lump of clay and her out of one of adams ribs, but ever had a hankering for apples so god make them wear clothes and adam wore a nice suit and tie and eve had to settle for a green dress but not a real green dress that's cruel. then they set off and had kids and their kids hmmm wain a minute had other kids so does that mean we are born from incest? I guess it does..hmmmmm ewwwwwwwwww

    January 28, 2011 at 1:58 am | Report abuse |
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