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. louise

    What about the Big Bang, but I guess like sarah palin said the earth is only 10 million years old and we lived with the dinosaurs. Go figure, and that god created the earth and billions and billions of planets and suns etc in 6 days and was bagged so he 'rested' on the 7th day. If god is supreme, why did he tire? But of course the Garden of Eden had an apple tree and told them not to eat any apples, why? its just a fu cking apple? come on give Eve a break, anyway their got there A$$$ kicked out for eating an apple, its a good thing they didn't get caught with all the incest that later ran in the family.....

    January 28, 2011 at 2:03 am | Report abuse |
  2. Philip (cont)

    ...and so the very idea of teaching evolution in schools didn't come about in an honest manner. We were decieved from the start, and are still being decieved to this very day. Many other findings said to prove evolution have been proven to be hoaxes. They find 1/4 of a jawbone and determine it was of an ancient man. They find an old skeleton that's hunched in the shoulders and exclaim 'the missing link' only later to find it was a man who suffered from arthritus. It is the evolutionists who have blind faith.

    January 28, 2011 at 2:05 am | Report abuse |
  3. Philip

    Louise...the idea that God created everything in 6 24hr. days did not come from the bible. The Genesis account states that AFTER God created the universe and the earth, He spent 6 of HIS days (not our puny little days) preparing the earth for habitation. Who is it that tells this lie? The preachers who fleece their flocks and the priests who stalk our boys, that's who. Why quote their words? Read the bible for yourself, and know the truth.

    January 28, 2011 at 2:30 am | Report abuse |
  4. Philip

    And Louise...nowhere does the bible say it was an apple. "piece of fruit". It could have been a tomato. he he

    January 28, 2011 at 2:34 am | Report abuse |
  5. Philip

    @Skeptic...an entire Egyptian army was drowned, according to the biblical account. Wouldn't there be some evidence of this found somewhere near where the sea crossing occured? Sure! And it has been found! Many years ago, a team of oceanographers discovered dozens of chariot wheels on the seabed there. Perfectly preserved, "coralized". Coral had grown around each four spoke wheel, perfectly preserving them. google "red sea chariot wheels found'...awesome images. No other book in history, besides the bible, offers an explanation as to how all these wheels got there. Not even ancient Egyptian history records this event. Hope you check it out.

    January 28, 2011 at 2:59 am | Report abuse |
  6. Philip

    Science is fueled by funding. They find what the funders want them to find.

    January 28, 2011 at 3:07 am | Report abuse |
  7. Mr. Keyz

    More stupid archeological rubish. This contradicts a recent report of civilizations existing in the Americas 200,000 years ago. These dummies don't know what they're doing.

    January 28, 2011 at 3:49 am | Report abuse |
  8. time

    Why doesn't someone just invent a time machine, so they can send cameras back and snap pictures to prove everything that is being argued about. Really?

    January 28, 2011 at 4:53 am | Report abuse |
  9. screw

    Whats the point of even commenting if all you do is !@#$%

    January 28, 2011 at 6:04 am | Report abuse |
  10. Peter Melzer

    This is an extremely well written and balanced article on a hotly contested issue in science. Kudos to the author(s)!

    January 28, 2011 at 6:32 am | Report abuse |
  11. Man4Man

    Wisdom from above is too high for people whose minds are blinded by ‘the god of this system’. Like unreasoning animals, they delude themselves with self-contradictory theories that only go to show how truly they are alienated from intelligence only the knowledge of the Almighty God, the Creator and giver of life, can supply. The Bible is the Manual of Life. Everything they are scavenging the earth to know is there for their enlightenment if they read it. It does not change a thing if they believe in the existence of God or not. The Atheist himself is a creation of God and it is ironically amusing that he would rather believe he evolved from some worm because that is what his ‘unintelligible mind’ foisted on him. Scientific invention is only possible because physical laws put in place by God Almighty are respected or acknowledged – some of which science is still struggling to discover. So, if you take the Almighty God, the Grand Creator out of the picture, you come down to nothing – just grains of dust! I think they (the Atheist Scientists) should pay more attention to seeing (scienceing) how to fix all the misfortunes and miseries that have befallen humankind (the myriads of diseases plaguing humankind leading to death). Take up this challenge. Stop dissipating energy on a piece of stone because it is not given to us to know all now. Humans are fallible. Instead, keep doing good to your humanity because in a fear-inspiring way the God Almighty wonderfully makes us.

    January 28, 2011 at 6:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Donny

      Adam and Eve were WASP, so was Noah and his family.

      January 28, 2011 at 7:21 am | Report abuse |
  12. Henry Miller

    "But then, warmer temperatures came in about 130,000 years ago."

    And no doubt Al Gore's distant ancestor went around screaming about global warming...

    January 28, 2011 at 7:28 am | Report abuse |
  13. MCGLYNN

    IF YOU CANN'T COMPREHEND IT, IT MUST BE MAGIC. HENCE, THE INVENTION OF GOD, PERIOD

    January 28, 2011 at 7:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Donny

      Have fun spending eternity with Hitler and the devil...THE DEVIL!!!!!

      January 28, 2011 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
    • RobA

      People that can't understand it are like that because they refuse to. They refuse to accept anything that doesn't fall right in line with the dogma.

      This is why the church takes 1,000 years to admit that it was wrong about something. Stubborn dedication to things that are just incorrect.

      January 28, 2011 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
  14. Jorge Barbosa

    WOW ! I found one that looks like the one in the center image on my lot in Westfield MA.

    January 28, 2011 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
  15. Bobby

    THEY'RE JUST ROCKS. I CAN GO IN MY BACK YARD TAKE A ROCK AND MAKE A SHARP ENDED POINT.. Geeze, how drastic these scientists have to go to "make a discovery"

    January 28, 2011 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
    • RobA

      But that wouldn't have 100,000 years of erosion on it, which you couldn't fake without an electron microscope. Nor would it have 100,000 year old dried plant or animal material on it.

      There are plenty of ways to prove something like this...but of course none of that matters to someone who can't grasp the basic concepts.

      January 28, 2011 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Donna

      They are a whole lot harder to make than you think, and then some. Go ahead and get two rocks (the same kind as these) and try it. And yes, scientists do try all of these things too. ; )

      January 28, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
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