In This Tiny Excavated Tooth Lie 'Enormous' Implications

1.8M-year-old tooth found in Caucasus region may be sign of oldest human settlement outside of Africa
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 12, 2022 12:46 PM CDT

Two decades ago, two fossilized, almost complete 1.8-million-year-old skulls belonging to prehistoric humans Zezva and Mzia were discovered in Dmanisi, a couple of hours from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. Now, a new find that "cements the region as the home of one of the earliest prehistoric human settlements in Europe, possibly anywhere outside Africa," per Reuters: Archaeologists recently unearthed a human tooth, also believed to be around 1.8 million years old, from the village of Orozmani, just a short distance from Dmanisi.

Giorgi Bidzinashvili, who headed up the dig, believes the tooth to have belonged to what he calls a "cousin" of Zezva and Mzia. UK archaeology student Jack Peart was the one who found the specimen sometime over the past couple of weeks, and he brought the tooth to the Georgian National Museum team leading the project. "We contacted our paleontologist and he confirmed it was a hominin tooth," archaeologist Giorgi Kopaliani tells USA Today, referring to the family that Homo sapiens, or human beings, belong to. It's yet another clue that this area in the southern Caucasus region was one place where prehistoric humans first landed when they began leaving Africa about 2 million years ago.

Ancient tools dating back 2.1 million years have been discovered in China, though no human remains that old have yet been found there. The group had started excavation at the Orozmani site in 2019 but had to suspend it the next year due to COVID. Since they relaunched their efforts in 2021, they've found other fossils, including from extinct creatures like saber-toothed cats, as well as prehistoric stone tools, Kopaliani says. But the tooth is a significant addition. "The implications, not just for this site, but for Georgia itself and for the story of humans leaving Africa 1.8 million years ago ... are enormous," Peart tells Reuters. Bidzinashvili's team is continuing to dig, and they hope to eventually expand the excavation site. (Read more discoveries stories.)

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