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Discovery of 9.7 million-year-old teeth could ‘rewrite human history’

Dental remains found by German paleontologists prompt speculation that Europe, not Africa, was the true birthplace of humankind

9.7 million year-old fossilized teeth found in a former bed of the Rhine river (Mainz Natural History Museum)
9.7 million year-old fossilized teeth found in a former bed of the Rhine river (Mainz Natural History Museum)

The discovery of a set of 9.7 million-year-old teeth is leading some experts to posit that Europe may have been the true birthplace of humankind, and not Africa as previously thought.

Paleontologists from the Mainz Natural History Museum in Germany found the fossilized dental remains while sifting through sand in a former bed of the Rhine river. The teeth are said to resemble those of a skeleton of a human ancestor known as “Lucy” that was discovered in Ethiopia in 1974. “Lucy,” however, was only 3.2 million years old.

“I don’t want to over-dramatize it, but I would hypothesize that we shall have to start rewriting the history of mankind after today,” Mainz mayor Michael Ebling told reporters during a press conference this week announcing the discovery.

Scientists unearthed the teeth in September 2016, but they were so confused by what they had come across that it took them until earlier this month to gather enough information to publish a report. They titled it: “A new great ape with startling resemblances to African members of the hominin tribe.”

“They are clearly ape teeth. Their characteristics resemble African finds that are four to five million years younger than the fossils excavated in Eppelsheim,” Mainz Natural History Museum director Herbert Lutz told reporters.

“This is a tremendous stroke of luck, but also a great mystery,” he added.

The UK Independent quoted Axel von Berg, a local archaeologist, saying the findings would “amaze experts.”

While fossil evidence that apes roamed Europe during that period exists, proof of hominins (species closely related to humans) has yet to materialize on the continent.

The current scientific consensus suggests that modern humans first appeared in east Africa between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago, before scattering across the globe roughly 70,000 years ago.

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