Research

Prehistoric Teeth Spark Debates Over Evolution

02If confirmed, that would make the teeth around 6 million years older than fossils for the early-human, African ancestor Australopithecus afarensis, aka Lucy. And the age of the teeth would be over 9 million years older than when anatomically modern humans are thought to have migrated out of Africa.

The fossil teeth potentially provide evidence that a human lineage evolved outside of Africa, and before major African human lineages first emerged.

Michael Ebling, the mayor of Mainz, added to the intrigue by telling the German media site Merkurist, “I would suggest that we must start rewriting the history of mankind after today.” 

Co-author Axel von Berg, an archaeologist in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, reports that the teeth exhibit characteristics similar, not only to Lucy, but also to other early hominins such as Ardipithecus ramidus and Ardipithecus kadabba. They estimate that the teeth belonged to an individual who weighed about 33 pounds. In contrast, Lucy is thought to have weighed between 45–110 pounds.tmg-article_tall

The site where the teeth were unearthed, Germany’s Eppelsheim formation, has previously yielded other important fossils. A femur excavated there in the early 19th century is believed by many to be the world’s first known primate fossil. Excavations between 1934 and 1935 that were directed by scientist Otto Schmidtgen unearthed still more primate fossils with hominoid features. These fossils, all teeth, were somehow lost during World War II, however.

The newly unearthed teeth were found at practically the same spot after 20 years of “painstaking excavations,” the researchers write, adding that, “Both teeth represent a hitherto unknown great ape with startling hominin resemblances.”

The teeth differ from all other known human ancestral remains found in Europe and Asia so far, according to the researchers. The date of the fossils was determined by the geological layer within which they were found and by surrounding microfossils. Radiometric or other more precise methods of dating have not yet been conducted.

Despite the lofty claims about the teeth, human evolution experts have been largely underwhelmed by the new discovery.

“The possible findings of more evidence of hominids outside of Africa is interesting, especially for deep hominin history, but I don’t think the overall picture of hominid evolution will change much,” Carina Schlebusch, an assistant professor in the Department of Organismal Biology at Uppsala University, told Seeker. “Genetics still point to a relatively recent African origin of the variation in all living humans.”tmg-article_tall00

Anthropologist Monte McCrossin of New Mexico State University said, “Sadly, this discovery isn’t at all what it claims to be; it’s fool’s gold,” he wrote in a comment posted on Research Gate. “This site in Germany has nothing whatsoever to do with human evolution.”

October 27, 2017
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