Prior to the last ice age, somewhere between 112,000 and 122,000 years ago, two humans, possibly three, walked south along the shore of an ancient lake in what is now the western Nefud Desert of Saudi Arabia. The humans, as they crouched down to collect valuable freshwater, were not alone, as the lake had attracted elephants, horses, camels, and other animals desperate for a drink.
Their thirsts quenched, the humans departed, but not before leaving imprints of their feet in the mud flats. Same for the animals. The footprints dried out and solidified shortly afterward and then became covered in sand, preserving them for over 100,000 years.
New research published in Science Advances describes the discovery of these fossilized footprints, of which at least seven could be linked to humans, specifically Homo sapiens. The prints “most likely represent the earliest evidence of our species in the Arabian Peninsula,” wrote the authors in the study, co-led by Matthew Stewart from the Max Planck Institutes for Chemical Ecology.
The presence of these prints in the Arabian Peninsula—the gateway between Africa and Eurasia—could mark a possible migration route taken by early humans as they spilled out from their continent of origin. Accordingly, the new paper highlights the importance of the region as a conduit through which early humans would go on to populate the rest of the world.