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Ancient Teeth Found in Europe Challenge Accepted Theories
A 9.7-million-year-old discovery has left a team of German scientists scratching their heads (CCSS Level: Grade 9, Words: 423)
Oct 25, 2017 History
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A team of German archaeologist discovered a puzzling set of teeth in the former riverbed of the Rhine, the Museum of Natural History in Maine announced last Wednesday.The teeth seem to belong to a species only previously known to have appeared in Africa several million years later. But the two well-preserved teeth recovered from sediments in Germany offer intriguing clues to how some of our distant primate relatives eked out a living in what is now Northern Europe. But do these teeth, as many news outlets have proclaimed, "rewrite human history?"

"This is not only the first time something like this has been found here in over 80 years, but it's something completely new, something previously unknown to science," said palaeontologist Herbert Lutz from the Mainz Natural History Museum in Germany.

The teeth don't appear to belong to any species discovered in Europe or Asia. They most closely resemble those belonging to the early hominid skeletons of Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) and Ardi (Ardipithecus ramidus), famously discovered in Ethiopia. But these new teeth, found in September 2016, in the western German town of Eppelsheim near Maine, are at least 4 million years older than the African skeletons, which has scientists so puzzled they held off publishing for a year.

Overwhelming fossil and genetic evidence points to an African origin for modern humans, who left Africa no earlier than 120,000 years ago and most likely between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago. The Eppelsheim teeth are roughly a hundred times older. If the Eppelsheim teeth say anything about human evolution, they help to clarify where and how the earliest hominoids lived and evolved.

But some experts in the field question if the teeth really belong to a hominoid.

The discovery comes in the form of two caramel-coloured fossil teeth - one identified as a canine, the other as an upper molar-belonging to a primate that lived between nine and 10 million years ago. The two teeth described this week are the first new fossils of their kind to come out to Eppelsheim in 80 years, according to the researchers who examined them.

Study leader Herbert Lutz, the deputy museum director at the Mainz Natural History Museum, cautions that he and his colleagues are only just beginning their analysis, which he says will include high-resolution x-rays and analysis of the teeth's wear patterns, which could help scientists reconstruct the primate's diet. "Hopefully, in one or two years, we'll know a lot more about what we've got on our hands. It's definitely a fantastic, exciting story."

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