Ancient fossil teeth from Italy, dating back approximately 450,000 years, shed light on Neanderthal dental evolution, as described in a study published in October 2018 by Clément Zanolli and colleagues from the Université Toulouse III Paul Sabatier in France. The teeth were discovered at the Fontana Fanuccio site, situated 50km southeast of Rome, and the Visogliano site, located 18km northwest of Trieste.
Through micro-CT scanning and detailed morphological analyses, the researchers compared the tooth tissues' shape and arrangement with those of other human species. The findings revealed that these teeth exhibited similarities with Neanderthals and were distinct from modern humans.
The discovery of Neanderthal-like teeth at such an early stage in the fossil record supports the idea of an early divergence of the Neanderthal lineage from our own, possibly around the Early-Middle Pleistocene transition. Notably, these teeth were different from other teeth found in Eurasia during that time, suggesting the possibility of multiple human lineages coexisting in the region during the Middle Pleistocene.
Zanolli highlighted the significance of the remains from Fontana Ranuccio and Visogliano, stating that they represent some of the oldest human fossil remains in the Italian Peninsula. The internal structural organization of the teeth resembled a Neanderthal-like signature, similar to the contemporary assemblage found at Atapuerca Sima de los Huesos in Western Europe, indicating the preconfiguration of a Neanderthal morphological dental template around 430 to 450 thousand years ago. This study contributes to our growing understanding of the complex human evolution that occurred during the Middle Pleistocene era.
Source: Public Library of Science