450,000-year-old teeth help piece together human family tree

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Jaw of a Neanderthal individual. Image credit: WGBH

Crime-drama fans know that forensic scientists can ID the remains of long-missing persons by examining their teeth. To solve even more ancient mysteries, anthropologists use the same kind of cutting-edge tooth technology, and a European team may have cracked a very cold case indeed—one that’s almost half a million years in the making.

A fossil tooth study published [October 3] in the journal PLOS ONE analyzes some of the oldest human remains ever found on the Italian Peninsula. The teeth, which are some 450,000 years old, have some telltale features of the Neanderthal lineage of ancient humans.

The species Homo neanderthalensis shares an unknown common ancestor with our own species, Homo sapiens, but it’s unclear exactly when the lineages diverged.

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To help to take a bite out of that gap, Clément Zanolli of the Université Toulouse III and colleagues used detailed morphological analyses and micro-CT scanning techniques to painstakingly measure the 450,000-year-old teeth. The teeth were then compared, inside and out, to those of other ancient human species, revealing that they have Neanderthal-like features.

“With this work and other recent studies, it seems now evident that the Neanderthal lineage dates back to at least 450,000 years ago and maybe more,” Zanolli says in an email. “This age is much older than the typical Neanderthals.”

Read full, original post: Ancient Teeth With Neanderthal Features Reveal New Chapters of Human Evolution

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