Researchers from the University of Porto in Portugal and the University of Leeds in the UK say they may have some insight into human migration patterns.

Their research, funded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology, the Leverhulme Trust, and the DeLaszlo Foundation, suggests early humans (who lived in Africa) migrated and settled in Arabia before moving out to the rest of the world.

The researchers analysed three of the earliest non-African maternal lineages and discovered that those three branches were associated with the first humans who migrated from Africa.

The team used mitochondrial DNA, which traces the female line of descent and is useful for comparing degree of relations between different populations. The researchers compared the non-African lineages with genomes from Arabia and the East.

"A major unanswered question regarding the dispersal of modern humans around the world concerns the geographical site of the first steps out of Africa," said Dr. Luisa Pereira from the University of Porto, "One popular model predicts that the early stages of the dispersal took place across the Red Sea to southern Arabia, but direct genetic evidence has been thin on the ground."

"The timing and pattern of the migration of early modern humans has been a source of much debate and research. Our new results suggest that Arabia, rather than North Africa or the Near East, was the first staging-post in the spread of modern humans around the world," said Professor Martin Richards of the University of Leeds.