Archaeological Digs

The fossil teeth, one of the oldest human remains in Italy, show that the Neanderthal tooth structure evolved 450,000 years ago.

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Jaws and teeth of a Neanderthal. C: WGBH

Newly found teeth have been added to the complex human evolution table in the Middle Pleistocene Eurasia.

In the study by Clément Zanolli and his colleagues on PLOS ONE , fossil teeth, the oldest human finds found on the Italian Peninsula, show that the Neanderthal tooth structure evolved 450,000 years ago. These teeth are added to the slice of the complex human evolution history, which we have just started to understand and is transformed into a growing picture.

Zanolli and his team examined Fontana Fanuccio, 50 km southeast of Rome, and tooth remains from Visogliano, 18 km northwest of Trieste. Approximately 450,000 years old these teeth were added to the human fossil remains, a short list of Middle Pleistocene Europe. To compare the other human species and the shape and the tooth tissue, the researchers performed micro-CT scanning and detailed morphological analyzes. With these analyzes, the team concluded that the teeth in both regions were similar to the Neanderthals, but to the modern people.

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Virtual demonstrations of Visogliano and Fontana Ranuccio. 
A: Zanolli et al., 2018

There has been much debate about the identities and relationships of the ancient people of the Middle Pleistocene period in Eurasia until the present day, but the discovery of such early Neanderthal-like teeth supports the suggestion that the Neanderthals had been separated from the modern people, ie our early family during the Early-Middle Pleistocene transition period. These teeth, which are also found in Eurasia, are quite different from the other teeth found in the same period, which means that more than one human species has spread to the region during this period. This evidence suggests that the Middle Pleistocene era was a much more complex period of human evolution than previously thought.

Zanolli, ıyla The ruins of Fontana Ranuccio and Visogliano shed light on human evolution in the Italian Peninsula, the oldest human fossils in the region. According to our analysis, the internal structural organization of the teeth is similar to that of the contemporary community at the Atapuerca Sima de los Huesos, while carrying a trace of the Neanderthal. In total, these findings show that the pattern of Neanderthal tooth morphology was formed at least 430,000 to 450,000 years ago in Western Europe.

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