There are many questions about the origins of mankind, but researchers have a pretty good idea of how it all went down. At least they thought they did, as a new discovery by archaeologists in Germany may shake our current understanding of humanity’s history that has been taught in colleges and schools for decades.
A set of fossilized teeth from a human ancestor was unearthed in an old riverbed near the Rhine river in the Eppelsheim, Germany. That isn’t very interesting. But these particular teeth have a long, ancient history: they are believed to be almost 9.7 million years old!
Why is that interesting? That throws a huge wrench in the currently accepted timeline of human evolution. These teeth are similar to those of human ancestors from around three million years ago in East Africa. Their presence in Germany several millions of years earlier is completely unexplained.
Currently, we think that humans began in Africa before spreading elsewhere. That is largely supported by fossils found in East Africa, with remains of more evolved pre-human species fanning out from that one central location.
And yet there’s just no reason why human remains from a nearly 10-million-old pre-human should be anywhere near Europe, several thousands of miles away. The teeth were so unexpected that the researchers who discovered did not publish their finding–they had to check. “This is a tremendous stroke of luck, but also a great mystery,” Herbert Lutz., lead researcher and director of the Mainz Natural History Museum, said. “They are clearly ape teeth. Their characteristics resemble African finds that are four to five million years younger than the fossils excavated in Eppelsheim.
Research will continue. But we may have to consider something new about the development of humanity: everything we thought we knew about the spread of early hominids around the world might be completely wrong.