Dr. Julian Benoit (who also commented on the previous findings on Graecopithecus back in May) has now commented on this finding, writing in his article The theory that humans emerged in Africa is often questioned. That’s good for science:
The most recent piece of research that seeks to stake Europe’s claim as human ancestors’ birthplace centres on two teeth: a canine and a molar. This find was greeted with some excitement outside expert circles.
A few days ago it was announced that a few teeth were discovered in Germany which were about 9.7 million years old—about 4 million years older than the oldest hominin teeth discovered in Africa. Of course, you get click-baity mainstream news titles like Archaeology fossil teeth discovery in Germany could re-write human history. Who was the one who said that this finding ‘could rewrite human history’? The mayor of the town it was discovered in:
In the press conference announcing the find, Mainz Mayor Michael Ebling claimed the find would force scientists to reconsider the history of early mankind.
“I don’t want to over-dramatize it, but I would hypothesize that we shall have to start rewriting the history of mankind after today,” Ebling was quoted as saying.
That a mayor’s statement, who I presume has no scientific background, is being put into news titles that human history may need revision shows the low-quality of mainstream news articles when they report on new scientific findings.
There are a few problems with these claims that ‘human history needs to be rewritten’ due to a few teeth. Back in May, I covered how the finding that Graecopithicus Freybergi had a 4th molar ‘similar’ to us and was, therefore, a part of our species was incorrect and that we needed way more evidence than a few teeth and a jawbone. The same holds for these findings.
The researchers stated that they hesitated a year to publish the findings. I don’t see why; the only reason I can think of is because they believed that the finding was not ‘PC’ and therefore waited to publish their results (kind of like when Robert Putnam waited to publish his findings on diversity and social trust). However, this does not mean that the OoA hypothesis is debunked and that Europe is the home of Mankind.
However, other experts in the field say that this ‘hardly’ has us rethinking our view of human evolution. Only two teeth were discovered, and as National Geographic reported paleoanthropologist Ben Viola said by e-mail:
“I think this is much ado about nothing,” he says by email. “The second tooth (the molar), which they say clearly comes from the same individual, is absolutely not a hominin, [and] I would say also not a hominoid.”
Most of the experts contacted by National Geographic stated that the teeth looked like they belonged to pliopithecids, with Luntz’s team acknowledging that the tooth looked like it belonged to anapithecus, which is a primate that lived in Hungary and Austria around 10 million years ago. The molar is important, not because it shows that human ancestors evolved in Europe but because it would validate the fact that a femur found in the 1820s in Eppelsheim belonged to a pliopithecid and not a hominoid, says paleoanthropologist David Begun:
“The ‘canine’ looks to me like a piece of a ruminant tooth,” Begun says by email. Ruminants are cud-chewing, plant-eating mammals such as cows and sheep. “It has a funny break that makes it look a bit like a canine, but it is definitely not a canine, nor is it [from] a primate.”
David Begun also writes:
“The molar is important, because it validates an idea proposed by several researchers that a femur known from Eppelsheim since the 1820s actually does most likely belong to a pliopithecoid and not a hominoid,” says Begun.
Begun also says that the tooth looks like a ‘ruminant tooth’ (ruminant teeth being used to chew cud) and that “It has a funny break that makes it look a bit like a canine, but it is definitely not a canine, nor is it [from] a primate.”
So, as usual, such weak evidence being touted such as this has huge problems and the evidence that is being touted to rewrite human evolutionary history actually shows something completely opposite.
There are a few problems for the claim that human evolution needs to be rewritten based off of these findings:
- The paper is not peer-reviewed yet: Some may say that this shouldn’t matter, however, as I’ve shown from the few bits of peer commentary that I am able to find about this, a lot of people in the field have a few hangups about who the teeth belonged to and whether or not they belonged to members of our genus.
- You need more than two teeth to rewrite human evolutionary history: Since when are two teeth enough to say that human evolution needs a rewrite? Just like the findings back in May, this does not mean that we need to rethink human evolutionary history. You would need more than a few teeth to prove that Man began outside of Africa, just like you would need more than a few teeth to prove that man began IN Africa.
- The head researcher Herman Luntz was interviewed by Research Gate and he said:
RG: Can you say already what this find will mean for our understanding of human history?
Lutz: We want to hold back on speculation. What these finds definitely show us is that the holes in our knowledge and in the fossil record are much bigger than previously thought. So we’ve got the puzzle of having finds that, in terms of the expected timeline, don’t fit the region we found them in. We’ve got two teeth from a single individual. That means there must have been a whole population. It wouldn’t have been just one, all alone like Robinson Crusoe. So the question is, if we’re finding primate species all around the Mediterranean area, why not any like this? It’s a complete mystery where this individual came from, and why nobody’s ever found a tooth like this somewhere before.
So, of course, he wants to hold back on speculation, because he knows that you cannot make these great proclamations that human history needs to be rewritten due to two teeth—contrary to what the mayor of Mainz, Germany Michael Ebling claimed (a non-scientist). News outlets then take that statement and run with it, despite the caution from Luntz the head researcher of the study, the fact that it’s yet to pass peer review, and the fact that other researchers in the field have other things to say about it other than the fact that it may be a hominoid.
In the paper, Luntz et al (2017) write:
The relative size of the canine, i.e. the ratio of the buccal heights of C and M1, is similar to those of e.g. Dryopithecus sp., Ankarapithecus meteai but also Ardipethcus ramidus. Both, reduced size and shape of the canine likely largely indicate that the new species from Eppelsheim had lost a honing (C/p3) complex already ca. 9.7 Ma ago. From all information gathered up to now, the question arises, if the newly discovered Eppelsheim species may be related to members of the African hominin tribe.
Well the answer, according to others in the field, is that it belongs to a pliopithecid species, not a hominin. They, of course, claim that it bears a close resemblance to hominin teeth.
Of course, the two primates could have faced similar evolutionary pressure leading to convergence of traits. If the climate in one area is the same as in another area, then convergence of traits between two similar species is possible. This could also account for the similarities in teeth between this species (whatever it is) and hominins.
We’re going to need more than two teeth to rewrite human evolution. We’re going to need more than a jawbone to rewrite human evolution. The teeth that were discovered last year in Germany will need to go through a longer process to be shown to belong to a hominin species—because all of the evidence that we currently have about it points to it being a part of a priopithecus species—not a hominin species.
I recommend people wait and see/do some digging into claims from news articles that purport to show that human evolution needs ‘rewriting’, because, as you can see, this time the claim came from a governor of the town the teeth were found in. The teeth discovered look like they may be similar to species from early in our genus, however other experts in the field urge extreme caution in any interpretation of what they mean and who they belong to. Just like with the Graecopithcus case back in May, it seems to belong to another species of ape—though this one could be more closely related to us. No, this finding does not show that human evolution needs rewriting. I wish news agencies would set a higher standard of quality for their titles; but they are just trying to get clicks and will publish the most click-baity title possible. You’ll need more than a few teeth and jawbone to say that Man did not evolve in Africa, when all of the evidence we currently have points to Africa as the origin of Mankind.