What the controversial ‘human’ teeth fossils really tell us

Oct 26, 2017

By Jeff Hecht

Hold that rewrite of the textbook view of human evolution. Two 9.7-million-year-old fossil teeth from Germany probably did not come from a previously unknown European root of the human lineage, as heralded in headlines over the last few days. There remains no hard evidence that our hominin ancestors originated anywhere but Africa.

Reports went viral over the weekend that Herbert Lutz at the Museum of Natural History in Mainz, Germany, had discovered a previously unknown European species of ape that had human-like teeth millions of years before African species did.

The story came to light in an unusual way. So far, Lutz’s paper has not been published in a scientific journal, but only on the website ResearchGate that some scientists use to share their papers. On Friday, ResearchGate distributed a press release that included an interview with Lutz and a link to a paper that has not yet been published in a journalbut was “being published in advance due to the importance of the fossils described”.

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2 comments on “What the controversial ‘human’ teeth fossils really tell us

  • However, there are evolutionary surprises in more recent new discoveries!


    Scientists who have been puzzling for years over the genetic “peculiarity” of a tiny population of orangutans in Sumatra have finally concluded that they are a new species to science.

    The apes in question were only reported to exist after an expedition into the remote mountain forests there in 1997.

    Since then, a research project has unpicked their biological secret.

    The species has been named the Tapanuli orangutan – a third species in addition to the Bornean and Sumatran.

    It is the first new great ape to be described for almost a century.

    Publishing their work in the journal Current Biology, the team – including researchers from the University of Zurich, Liverpool John Moores University and the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme – pointed out that there are only 800 individuals remaining, making this one of the world’s most threatened ape species.

    Early on in their study, researchers took DNA from the orangutans, which showed them to be “peculiar” compared to other orangutans in Sumatra.

    So the scientists embarked on a painstaking investigation – reconstructing the animals’ evolutionary history through their genetic code.

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  • @ OP – Reports went viral over the weekend that Herbert Lutz at the Museum of Natural History in Mainz, Germany, had discovered a previously unknown European species of ape that had human-like teeth millions of years before African species did.

    Their sedimentological environment and the accompanying faunal elements point to an age shortly before the Mid-Vallesian crisis at ca. 9.7 Ma. While the molar shares characters with various other taxa, the canine reveals intriguingly potential hominin affinities: its lingual outline is clearly diamond-shaped; its ratio of lingual height / mesiodistal length is within the range of Australopithecus afarensis, Ardipithecus ramidus, Ardipithecus kadabba, and females of Pan troglodytes. The relative size of the canine, i. e. the ratio of the buccal heights of C and M1, is similar to those of e.g. Dryopithecus sp., Ankarapithecus meteai but also Ardipithecus ramidus. Both, reduced size and shape of the canine likely indicate that the new species from Eppelsheim had lost a honing (C/p3) complex already ca. 9.7 Ma ago. From all information gathered up to now, the question arises, if the newly discovered Eppelsheim species may be related to members of the African hominin tribe.

    A new great ape with startling resemblances to African members of the hominin tribe, excavated from the Mid-Vallesian Dinotheriensande of Eppelsheim. First report (Hominoidea, Miocene, MN 9, Proto-Rhine River, Germany)
    (PDF Download Available @ ResearchGate link).

    Interestingly, an earlier fossil has been discovered in England!


    Fossils of the oldest-known ancestors of most living mammals, including human beings, have been unearthed in southern England.

    Teeth belonging to the extinct shrew-like creatures, which scampered at the feet of dinosaurs, were discovered in cliffs on the Dorset coast.

    Scientists who identified the specimens say they are the earliest undisputed fossils of mammals belonging to the line that led to humans.

    They date back 145 million years.

    ”Here we have discovered from the Jurassic coast a couple of shrew-like things that are to date unequivocally our earliest ancestors,” said Dr Steve Sweetman of Portsmouth University, who examined the ancient teeth.

    The mammals were tiny, furry creatures that probably emerged under the cover of night.

    One, a possible burrower, dined on insects, while the larger may have eaten plants as well.

    Their teeth were highly advanced, of a type that can pierce, cut and crush food.

    ”They are also very worn which suggests the animals to which they belonged lived to a good age for their species,” said Dr Sweetman.

    ”No mean feat when you’re sharing your habitat with predatory dinosaurs.”

    The fossils were discovered by Grant Smith, then an undergraduate student. He was sifting through rock samples collected at Durlston Bay near Swanage for his dissertation when he found teeth of a type never before seen in rocks of this age.

    One of the new species has been named Durlstotherium newmani after Charlie Newman, who is the landlord of a pub close to where the fossils were discovered, and is also a keen fossil collector.

    The second has been named Dulstodon ensomi, after Paul Ensom, a local palaeontologist.

    The findings, published in the Journal, Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, add new evidence to a hotly-debated field.

    Recent fossil discoveries from China pushed back the date of the earliest mammals to 160 million years ago.

    However, this has been disputed, based on data from molecular studies.

    A separate study revealed this week suggests that the earliest mammals were night creatures that only switched to daytime living after the demise of the dinosaurs.

    The research, published in the journal, Nature Ecology and Evolution, could explain why many mammals living today are nocturnal.

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