A reconstruction of ‘Lucy’ (public domain). Inset: One of the fossilized teeth discovered at Eppelsheim. Credit: The Museum of Natural History in Mainz

9.7 Million-Year-Old Teeth Found in Germany Belong to Hominin Only Known To Have Existed in Africa 4 Million Years Later

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Archaeologists have made a discovery so sensational that they have waited 1 year to announce it as they had to be sure they had the dating correct. A set of teeth belonging to an early hominin species has been found in Germany that dates back 9.7 million years.  Could this finding be another nail in the coffin for the out-of-Africa theory of human origins?

It was only one month ago that scientists made the surprising announcement of 5.7 million-year-old hominin footprints on the island of Crete in Greece. Many responded with disbelief, as such a discovery suggests that the earliest human ancestors wandered around Europe at the same time or even earlier than Africa, drawing into question the widely-believed theory that humans emerged in Africa before spreading out to the rest of the world. Now the finding of 9.7 million-year-old hominin teeth in Germany supports the possibility that the out-of-Africa theory is wrong. 

The early hominin footprints discovered on Crete. Credit: Matthew Robert Bennett

The early hominin footprints discovered on Crete. Credit: Matthew Robert Bennett

 

The Museum of Natural History in Mainz announced that the fossilized teeth were discovered in the former riverbed of the Rhine in the western German town of Eppelsheim near Mainz.  The Ur-Rhine, as it is known, is a hotbed for fossil remains. In just 15 years, scientists have found 25 new species among the fossilized remains.

The teeth were unearthed in a layer of sediment next to the skeletal remains of an extinct horse-like animal, and this helped with the dating process. 

The fossilized teeth were found in a layer of sediment next to an extinct species of horse. The Museum of Natural History in Mainz

The fossilized teeth were found in a layer of sediment next to an extinct species of horse. The Museum of Natural History in Mainz

Teeth Belong to Species Known Only to Have Existed in Africa

The teeth are believed to belong to a species that is most similar to the famous ‘Lucy’, who belongs to the Australopithecus Afarensis species, one of the first known relatives of humans. However, until now, this species is only known to have existed in Africa some 4 million years later!

"They are clearly ape-teeth," head of the team Herbert Lutz was quoted as saying by local online news outlet Merkurist (link in German)  . "Their characteristics resemble African finds that are four to five million years younger than the fossils excavated in Eppelsheim. This is a tremendous stroke of luck, but also a great mystery."

A reconstruction of a female Australopithecus afarensis. 

In a press conference, the Mayor of Mainz, Michael Ebling, said the discovery could lead to a complete overhaul of what we currently believe to be true about human origins.

"I would hypothesize that we shall have to start rewriting the history of mankind after today," Ebling said.

Two of the fossilized teeth discovered at Eppelsheim. Credit: The Museum of Natural History in Mainz

Two of the fossilized teeth discovered at Eppelsheim. Credit: The Museum of Natural History in Mainz

The teeth are currently being examined in detail by a team of scientists and the first paper to report on the finding will be published in one week, and will be available on Researchgate.

It is unclear at this stage how the scientific community will respond to such a shocking discovery. Will we begin to see revisions to the widely-believed out-of-Africa theory? Only time will tell.

Top image: A reconstruction of ‘Lucy’ (public domain). Inset: One of the fossilized teeth discovered at Eppelsheim. Credit: The Museum of Natural History in Mainz

By April Holloway

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