Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

New findings reveal modern humans left Africa much earlier than previously thought

Wednesday, 02 February 2011

An international team of scientists – including Professor Adrian Parker from Oxford Brookes University – have revealed that humans left Africa at least 50,000 years earlier than previously suggested and were, in fact, present in eastern Arabia as early as 125,000 years ago. These ‘anatomically modern’ humans – you and me – had evolved in Africa about 200,000 years ago and subsequently populated the rest of the world. The new study published in the journal Science reports findings from an eight-year archaeological excavation at a site called Jebel Faya in the United Arab Emirates. The direct route from east Africa to Jebel Faya crosses the southern Red Sea. Professor Parker studied sea-level and climate change records for the region and concluded the direct migration route may have been passable for brief periods in the past. During Ice Ages, large amounts of water are stored as ice, causing global sea-levels to fall. At these times, the seaway of the southern Red Sea narrows considerably, making it easier to cross. “There was a brief period where modern humans may have been able to use the direct route from east Africa to Jebel Faya,” said Professor Parker. Palaeolithic stone tools found at the Jebel Faya were similar to tools produced by early modern humans in east Africa, but very different from those produced to the north, in the Levant and the mountains of Iran. This suggested early modern humans migrated into Arabia directly from Africa and not via the Nile Valley and the Near East as is usually suggested. The new findings will reinvigorate the debate about man’s origins and how we became a global species.