Fossil Tooth Belonged to Earliest Western European, Experts Say

James Owen, National Geographic News, July 2, 2007

A fossil tooth discovered last week in Spain belonged to the oldest known western European, scientists have announced.

The early-human molar was discovered last Wednesday at the Sierra Atapuerca archaeological site in the Burgos Province of northern Spain.

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Archaeologists from the Atapuerca Foundation who made the latest find say the tooth provides further evidence that the first ancestors of modern-day Europeans arrived earlier than believed.

The team notes that the tooth’s age, dated at around 1.2 million years old, is similar to that of stone tools and animal fossils bearing human-tool cut marks uncovered at sites in Spain, France, and Italy.

“Now we finally have the anatomical evidence of the [early humans] that fabricated tools more than one million years ago,” the team said in a statement.

The researchers added that they are waiting for final analysis of the tooth before publishing their findings in a scientific journal.

“Pioneer” Species

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Previously scientists had thought that Homo heidelbergensis, which appeared some 600,000 years ago, was Western Europe’s earliest human resident.

Jose Maria Bermudez de Castro, one of three experts leading the latest excavation, told the AFP news agency that the fossil appeared to be “well worn” and from an individual between 20 and 25.

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