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Prehistoric World

First West European Tooth Found

Edited from BBC News, 30 June 2007. Updated 25 March 2017

Scientists in Spain said in 2007 that they have found a tooth from a distant human ancestor which was more than one million years old.

The tooth, a pre-molar, was discovered in June 2007 at the Atapuerca site in northern Spain's Burgos Province. It represented Western Europe's 'oldest human fossil remains', according to a statement which was released by the Atapuerca Foundation. The foundation was awaiting final results before publishing its findings in a scientific journal.

Human story

Several caves containing evidence of prehistoric human occupation had been found in Atapuerca. In 1994 fossilised remains called Homo antecessor ('Pioneer Man') - believed to date back 800,000 years - were unearthed there. Until then, scientists had thought that Homo heidelbergensis, dating back 600,000 years, was Europe's oldest inhabitant.

Jose Maria Bermudez de Castro, co-director of research at the site, stated at the time that the newly discovered tooth could be as much as 1.2 million years old.

Sediment dates

The find also provided anatomical evidence of hominids which fabricated tools more than one million years ago. It was not possible at the time to confirm to which species the tooth belonged, but initial analyses allowed for the supposition that it was an ancestor of Homo antecessor, which probably meant Homo ergaster.

The tooth appeared to come from an individual which was aged between twenty and twenty-five years old. There seemed to be little doubt, from the geological level in which the tooth was found, that it belonged to the oldest European found to date.

Fossil finds in Georgia in the Caucasus so far represented the oldest evidence of humans anywhere in Europe. Digging at the medieval town of Dmanisi, eighty kilometres to the south-west of Tbilisi, has yielded skulls of Homo georgicus, a species which seems to have been an off-shoot of Homo erectus, which are 1.8 million years old.

Homo ergaster, Turkhana Boy
In general, the use of Homo ergaster describes a species of hominid in Africa, but when examples of the same species leave Africa they are generally referred to as Homo erectus, although this is not a hard or fast rule - this example belongs to Turkana Boy, otherwise known as Nariokotome Boy, the most complete skeleton found to date and a perfect example of Homo ergaster of about 1.5 million years ago



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