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Stone tools cast new light on date of human migration

A STONE-AGE archaeological site in the Arabian peninsula has become the focus of a radical theory of how early humans made the long walk from their evolutionary homeland of Africa to become a globally dispersed species.

Scientists have found a set of stone tools buried beneath a collapsed rock shelter in the barren hills of the United Arab Emirates that they believe were made about 125,000 years ago by people who had migrated out of eastern Africa by crossing the Red Sea when sea levels were at a record low.

The age of the stone tools suggests that our species, Homo sapiens, left Africa between 30,000 and 55,000 years earlier than previously believed.


Genetic evidence had suggested that modern humans made the main migration from Africa between 60,000 and 70,000 years ago. However, all these movements were believed to have been made into the Middle East by people walking along the Nile valley and over the Sinai Peninsula.

The stone tools unearthed at the Jebel Faya site, about 50km from the Persian Gulf, suggest another possible migratory route across the Bab al-Mandeb strait, a tract of open water which separates the Red Sea from the Arabian Ocean and the Horn of Africa from the Arabian Peninsula.

The scientists behind the study said that at the time of the migration sea levels would have been low enough for people to make the crossing by foot.

They also suggest that the waterless Nejd plateau of southern Arabia, which would have posed another barrier to migration, was at that time covered in lakes and game-filled vegetation. Once humans had crossed into southern Arabia, they would have enjoyed the benefits of a land rich in gazelle.

Simon Armitage of Royal Holloway, University of London, the lead author of the study published in the journal 'Science', said that discovering the dates of the tools was key evidence suggesting there was an earlier migration out of Africa than previously supposed.

"Archaeology without ages is like a jigsaw with the interlocking edges removed -- you have lots of individual pieces of information but you can't fit them together to produce the big picture," he said. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent