10-Million-Year-Old Teeth From Mystery Primate Could Change What We Know About Early Human Evolution

A set of teeth found from a great ape in Eppelsheim, Germany in 2016 could prove to be a very important archaeological find, and a potential game-changer in terms of the way people understand early human evolution.

According to a report from Deutsche Welle (via USA Today), a team of researchers led by Herbert Lutz, an archaeologist from the Natural History Museum in Mainz, discovered two teeth in the town of Eppelsheim, in an area where the Rhine River had once flowed. Although the great ape teeth were spotted in 2016, the find was only announced this week, as the researchers had first wanted to be absolutely sure they had made an important discovery, one big enough to possibly counter existing human evolution theories.

Speaking to Deutsche Welle, Lutz explained that no one had expected his team to discover a completely new species of primate, one that had lived about 9.7 million years ago. The ape’s teeth, while no longer white, were “perfectly preserved” in amber, and since the great ape species is related to Homo sapiens, Lutz believes that his team’s find represents groundbreaking knowledge, as the teeth resemble those from two historically-significant finds from East Africa. Furthermore, he noted that there aren’t any comparable finds in other parts of Europe, or even in Greece and Turkey, making the origins of the great ape in question a mystery.

“The groundbreaking knowledge is that we have comparable finds only in East Africa. And these are much, much younger. These species are well known as Ardi and Lucy, and their canines look very similar to the one here from Eppelsheim, but they are only two, three, four or five-million-years-old, and Eppelsheim is almost 10 [million]. So the question is: What has happened?”

Lutz was referring to the famed Australopithecus afarensis specimen scientists had named “Lucy,” and the subsequent East African find named “Ardi,” an adult female of the species Ardipithecus ramidus that had existed about 4.4 million years ago, more than a million years before Lucy’s time. According to a 2009 report from the New York Times, Ardi represented a “window to the early steps” of human evolution that took place after the ancestors of modern humans diverged from the common ancestor we share with chimpanzees.

Given the similarity between the Eppelsheim find and the teeth from the famed skeletons of Ardi and Lucy, it’s expected that the discovery could force a revamp of early human evolution theories. But Lutz cautioned that the “real work” required to fully understand the great ape teeth his team had found has just started, meaning more research will likely be needed, the Independent wrote.

As further noted by the Independent, the great ape teeth will be on display at a state exhibition from late October, and will then be moved to the Natural History Museum in Mainz.

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