Fossilized teeth uncovered in Germany could change the way researchers look at human evolution, according to a pre-print study available online. An international team of researchers found the 9.7 million-year-old bones while sifting through gravel and sand in a river bed near the town of Eppelsheim. While the teeth looked like the ones that belong to the fossil “Lucy,” they do not resemble any other species found in either Europe or Asia.
Lucy — which researchers first discovered in 1974 — changed the timeline of human evolution by showing a link between our species and early primates. The shape and positioning of her pelvis reflected a fully upright gait, while her knee and ankle both reflected bipedal walking. Those traits helped build the idea that walking, not bigger brains, was a key selective pressure that drove human evolution forward. The newly uncovered teeth could have a similar effect on the current perception of our species’ past.
Currently, researchers believe our early ancestors left Africa some 120,000 years ago. However, while the newly discovered fossils are clearly ape teeth, they are much older than the current timeline. This shows migration may have occurred far before any current estimates.
The new study concluded in 2016, but the teeth confused the researchers so much that they needed to wait for more evidence before they could publish their findings. Scientists are not yet sure where the fossils fit in humankind’s family tree. They hope the new findings will result in a further study that could unravel important information about human evolution and lead to a new understanding of our ancestor’s migration patterns.