Teeth dating back to around 9.7 million years ago were found in sediments near a river in Eppelsheim, Germany, raising questions about the human family tree.
The canines are believed to have come from an ancient primate that has yet to be identified, and contains intriguing characteristics. The two teeth were recovered in September 2016 at a prehistoric site known for yielding primate fossils since the 1820s, Tech Times reports.
The teeth consist of an upper right first molar and an upper left canine, caramel in colored and in amazing condition, considering their age. The molar has characteristics matching other fossils found in the area, but the canine has distinctly hominin characteristics, which suggests that its owner could have been a very distant ancestor of modern-day humans.
To be more specific, scientists say that the canine bears a striking similarity to the teeth of the extinct human ancestors Australopithecus afarensis.
The discovery is interesting, but experts have been very careful about their interpretations of the findings, which is why it has taken some time for researchers to publish anything. According to Herbert Lutz of the Natural History Museum in Mainz, Germany, lead author on the study of the teeth, he and his colleagues were stumped for a year.
The tooth is unlike any found in Europe and Asia, Lutz explained, and the difficulty was in explaining how it is related to hominin teeth, as the species was thought to have left Africa around 120,000 years ago. The tooth is much older than that. Lutz said,
That would mean that a group of primates was in Europe before they were in Africa.
There is the possibility that whoever owned the tooth developed the same characteristics after experiencing the same evolutionary events that the species in Africa did at the same time. Lutz said, “We want to hold back on speculation. It’s a complete mystery where this individual came from, and why nobody’s ever found a tooth like this somewhere before.”
Other experts believe that the tooth could have come from an extinct ape species that lived in Europe and Asia between 7 and 17 million years ago.
The study was published in ResearchGate.