Category Archives: GERMANY

Oldest Ever Fly With Stomach Full Of Food Found After 47 Million Years

Oldest Ever Fly With Stomach Full Of Food Found After 47 Million Years

When scientists investigated a 47-million-year-old fossilized fly found at the Messel Pit fossil site in Germany, they noticed it looked a bit chonky. So they took a closer look at its “bulging abdomen” and discovered it was stuffed with pollen from different plants.

Oldest Ever Fly With Stomach Full Of Food Found After 47 Million Years
This ancient fossilized fly had a belly full of pollen.

“The rich pollen content we discovered in the fly’s stomach suggests that flies were already feeding and transporting pollen 47 million years ago and shows it played an important role in the pollen dispersal of several plant taxa,” said paleobotanist Fridgeir Grimsson in a University of Vienna statement Thursday.

Grimsson is a co-author of a paper on the fly published in the journal Current Biology on Wednesday. The researcher suggested that flies of the time period may have outshined bees as pollinators.

This series of images highlights the fossilized fly’s crop where the pollen was found. The fly on the far right shows this same part of the body in a modern-day fly.

The team was able to extract and study the fossil pollen grains and traced them mostly to water willow and virgin ivy plants. Electron microscope images helped to identify the origin of the pollen.

The plant types suggest the fly was feeding around an area of shallow water.

The Messel Pit in Germany is listed on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites as “the richest site in the world for understanding the living environment of the Eocene, between 57 million and 36 million years ago.”

The area was once home to an oil shale mine, but now it’s the subject of scientific study for the many well-preserved fossils of mammals and other animals.

Flies may be considered a modern-day nuisance, but this fossilized fly and its big appetite show they can also be useful emissaries from the deep past.

Germany Will Return Benin Bronzes to Nigeria in 2022

Germany Will Return Benin Bronzes to Nigeria in 2022

After museum experts and political leaders reached an agreement on Thursday, Germany expects to return the antique, pillaged artifacts known as the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria next year. During a military expedition to the kingdom in what is now Nigeria in 1897, the majority of the artefacts were looted by British forces.

Germany Will Return Benin Bronzes to Nigeria in 2022
This plaque depicts musicians, a page holding a ceremonial sword and a high-ranking warrior. It numbers among the thousands of works looted by British forces during an 1897 raid of Benin City.

The 16th-18th century metal plaques and sculptures that decorated the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin are among the most highly regarded works of African art. They are now scattered around European museums. After the decision on Thursday, the next step will be to develop a road map for the return, which should be completed in the next few months.

That will mean inventorying all the items by June 15, followed by a meeting on June 29 to consider the best approach.

The 16th-18th century metal plaques and sculptures that decorated the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin are among the most highly regarded works of African art.

Germany puts museum cooperation with Africa on the agenda

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called the agreement “a turning point in our approach to colonial history.”

“We have been working intensively for months to create the framework conditions for this,” he said, adding: “We have put the issue of museum cooperation with Africa on the political agenda and sought dialogue with our Nigerian partners, the architect and the initiators of the Benin Museum.”

“From archaeological cooperation to the training of museum managers and assistance with cultural infrastructure, we have put together a package and are continuing to work on it with our Nigerian partners.”

Decolonizing museums

Nanette Snoep, a Dutch anthropologist and curator from the Rautenstrach-Joest-Museum in Cologne, said, “museums and politicians have become aware of the fact that it is really necessary to decolonize museums. And decolonizing also means restitution.”

With this decision, Culture Minister Monika Gruetters said, “We want to contribute to understanding and reconciliation with the descendants of those whose cultural treasures were stolen during colonization.”

The debate over Benin bronzes gains momentum in Germany

Hermann Parzinger of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation said the goal is to return the first items by 2022. He said talks are planned with the group’s Nigerian counterparts to ensure “substantial returns and future cooperation.”

Those would include talks about allowing some of the items to remain on display in German museums. However, Snoep says this decision must be made by the Nigerians.

“Nigerian partners can decide by themselves how this restitution will take place, how this repatriation will take place and, if some of the looted art will remain in German museums, it must be their decision how we will represent the Benin artworks in our museums and also what kind of story we will tell in our German museums,” said Snoep. 

The famous bronzes are to be found in a number of German museums. The Berlin Ethnological Museum holds around 530 artefacts from the kingdom of Benin, including around 440 bronzes.

Some 180 of the bronzes are due to be exhibited this year in Berlin’s Humboldt Forum, a new museum complex that opened in December.

Pressure on former colonial powers to return looted artworks

The restitution debate began many years ago but was largely ignored by Western museums. It was also a taboo topic among anthropologists. According to anthropologist Snoep, a lot of Africans began making the call decades ago. “African intellectuals first started this debate. Now we only hear the voices of Western museum directors and politicians. But the good fight started in Africa,” Snoep said.

The curator adds that she hoped “it doesn’t become a white on white dialogue again.”   

Most European former colonial powers have begun a process in recent years of considering the return of looted artefacts to the former colonies, especially in Africa. Last month, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland agreed to return a Benin Bronze sculpture to Nigeria, saying it was acquired by British soldiers in 1897 in “reprehensible circumstances.”

The famous bronzes are to be found in a number of German museums

That decision raised pressure on other establishments, including the British Museum, to follow suit. The British Museum meanwhile is reportedly considering lending its Bronzes to Nigeria.

In Nigeria’s capital Abuja meanwhile, many people welcomed the announcement, describing it as a historic moment for Nigeria. “I think it is a good development because those artefacts are our history in physical form,” said Okwuchi Jim-Nna. “It shows that Africa in general and Nigeria, in particular, has values and they are beginning to respect the culture of the people,” Steve Farunbi added. 

Jemilah Idomas said it was a “laudable effort” by Germany. “Kudos to the German Government.”

However, a few Nigerians meanwhile believed their country was not ready to host the artefacts. “Bringing such artefacts into the country which have immeasurable value will not serve the purpose,” Samson Orija argued. “We are not ready, yet. I think they should still hold onto it.”

“With the insecurity now, the safety of those artefacts cannot be guaranteed,” said Shegun Daramola. “So, until we are ready they should still hold onto it. When they bring it now maybe another country will steal it. Or it gets missing within the country or gets destroyed.”

Museum to be built in Benin City

Nigeria plans to build a museum in Benin city to house the looted artefacts after they are returned, a €3.4 million scheme in which the British Museum will participate. Late last year, France approved the restitution of 26 items from the Kingdom of Dahomey, located within present-day Benin, which had been pillaged in 1892.

“Restitution is really righting [the wrongs] of your own history. And so that’s why African voices are crucial in this debate, that we do not, as white directors, recolonize a debate about restitution,” said anthropologist Nanette Snoep.  

Iron Age Weapons Found at Hillfort Site in Germany

Iron Age Weapons Found at Hillfort Site in Germany

Live Science reports that a metal detectorist working with the Regional Association of Westphalia-Lippe archaeologists has discovered more than 150 objects at Wilzenberg, an Iron Age hillfort site in western Germany. 

Some of the bent weapons that were found during the 1950s at the hillfort in western Germany.

The hoard contains more than 150 objects, including deliberately bent weapons, such as 40 spearhead and lancehead tips, swords and fragments of shield bosses (round structures at the centre of a shield); tools; belt hooks; horse gear; three silver coins; bronze jewellery; and one fibula, or lower leg bone, Manuel Zeiler, an archaeologist at LWL, told Live Science.

“The arsenal is the largest in [the German state of] North Rhine-Westphalia and also links the [state’s region of] Sauerland with complex processes in Iron Age Europe,” Michael Baales, an LWL archaeologist and head of the Olpe branch in North Rhine-Westphalia, said in a translated statement, released March 31.

Moreover, the damaged weapons — which ancient people would have purposefully destroyed by bending them — shed light on how victorious Iron Age warriors treated the losing side’s arsenal, Baales said.

Researchers have known about a possible hoard at the Iron Age hillfort for several decades. In the 1950s, while workers were constructing a pavilion, “two swords wrapped in two spearheads and two lanceheads were discovered by chance,” Zeiler said.

The swords were bent, and their tips had been purposefully deformed, he noted. But it wasn’t until 2013 that archaeologists did a more thorough excavation at this spot to discover the full context of the archaeology there, Zeiler said.

From 2018 through 2020, metal detectorist and local history researcher Matthias Dickhaus, who worked with the LWL and the town of Schmallenberg, searched the site for additional metal artifacts. 

In all, Dickhaus hit the jackpot, finding 100 objects, the LWL reported. Among the findings, archaeologists marvelled over a rare type of horse bridle.

“The existing handle parts for guiding the horse suggest that this type of bridle was used on horses that were pulling a chariot,” the LWL wrote in the statement. “The bit allowed the horse to be steered very precisely and directly — vital for a warrior on a chariot in the thick of a battle.”

Iron Age Weapons Found at Hillfort Site in Germany
A metal detectorist found these artifacts and more as he searched the site at Wilzenberg from 2018 to 2020.

The hillfort, Zeiler added, is located on the 2,158-foot-tall (658 meters) Wilzenberg mountain. This site was visited by people during the Iron Age, from about 300 B.C. to the birth of Christ, and the walls of the ancient hillfort, known as the Wallburg, are still visible today, largely seen by pilgrims and hikers who frequent the mountain. 

Most of the artifacts from the hoard date to about 300 B.C. to the first century B.C., although the coins and the swords had a more narrow window of only the first century B.C., Zeiler said. 

A view to the northeast of Wilzenberg mountain in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Although the hillfort at Wilzenberg is far away from the centres of Celtic culture in other parts of continental Europe, its architecture and the hoard’s bent objects are “comparable with the Celtic culture,” Zeiler noted.

Celtic and other Iron Age cultures are known to have bent the weapons of a defeated enemy in a similar way to the newfound hoard. For instance, archaeological investigations at sanctuaries in Gournay and Ribemont-Sur-Ancre in France “shows that weapons of conquered warriors after the battle were destroyed by the winner,” Zeiler said. “This ceremony was possibly the last step to celebrate the triumph.”

The new analysis of the hoard shows that “far away from the Celtic civilization, people celebrated a triumph after battle similar to the Celtic world,” Zeiler told Live Science.

Despite the many weapons and parts of horse gear found at the hillfort, there’s no evidence of an epic battle there, Zeiler noted.

“The damage was clearly not caused during a fight, and consequently the Wilzenberg is not a battlefield,” Zeiler said in the LWL statement. Many of the weapons cannot be precisely dated, so it’s not clear whether they were damaged and laid down over the centuries, or whether they were deliberately twisted at a single event, he said.

Remains of Southland WWII gunner found after 79 years in plane wreckage in Germany

New Zealand Airmen’s Remains Identified in Germany reports that the remains of Sergeant Henry Pullar of the Royal New Zealand Airforce have been unearthed and identified in Germany. Pullar was a rear gunner on a British Short Stirling heavy bomber that was shot down in northwestern Germany in 1942. 

New Zealand Airmen’s Remains Identified in Germany
Sergeant air gunner Henry Pullar worked on his family’s farm at Otautau before enlisting in the Royal New Zealand Airforce in 1941.

The remains of Otautau man sergeant Henry Pullar were discovered buried among parts of a British World War II bomber plane that went down in 1942, according to DNA testing.

His niece Pam Compton said she and her family received written confirmation of the test results from Hamburg-Eppendorf University Hospital biologist Oliver Krebs in late December 2020.

“We were thrilled and stunned when we were told,” Compton, of Toowoomba in Queensland, said. September 1 marks the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War when Nazi Germany invaded Poland.

Discovery of the human remains and parts of the plane’s tail section buried more than five metres deep, were made in 2019, while redevelopment work was being done at Vechta Airport in Germany. Research by Compton showed the plane crashed tail-first into the ground.

Pullar was a rear gunner in the plane.

News of human remains being found reached Compton in September 2019, after a German aviation archaeology working group member, Jens-Michael Brandes, posted a message on an ancestry site looking for relatives of Errol Skeggs – Compton’s father.

The group was called to the redevelopment site when aircraft parts started appearing during earthmoving work.

On the third day of examining the area clothing and human remains were found. A senior archaeologist at the Lower Saxony state office for the preservation of cultural heritage became involved in the findings, along with anthropologists of the forensic department of the University Medical Centre in Hamburg-Eppendorf.

Archaeologists, anthropologists and scientists at the site where the human remains of Southland airman Henry Pullar were discovered at Vechta in Germany in 2019. The British bomber plane Pullar was in was shot down during World War II.

“As more remains were found the forensic scientists from UKE Hamburg came to the site and removed them,” Compton said.

The bones were transferred to Hamburg-Eppendorf University Hospital, where biologist Oliver Krebs subsequently removed DNA from them.

“My family and I and the family and friends of the crew requested that the UK Ministry of Defence Joint Casualty & Compassionate Centre do DNA testing,” Compton said.

She had contacted and built up a network with the relatives of the other airmen after starting research on the life and war service of her uncle in 2016.

DNA samples from Compton and four others in her family were sent to Krebs who later confirmed the bones belonged to her uncle. Krebs sent an official confirmation to Compton by email on December 23, 2020.

An aviation archaeology working group member, Matthias Zeisler, at the site in Vechta, Germany, in 2019, where parts of a British World War II plane and remains of Southland airman sergeant Henry Pullar was discovered. DNA testing confirmed the remains belonged to Pullar.

The bones are still at the university’s forensic science department and will be kept there until the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is allowed, under Covid-19 regulations, to take them to Rheinberg War Cemetery in Germany. The bones will be placed in the communal grave which has the remains of five of the six other airmen on the plane.

The pilot has his own grave there.

“It’s a privilege to have found him [Pullar] after all this time, and to have closure when so many didn’t,” Compton said. Pullar, at 25, was the oldest of the seven crewmen on the British Short Stirling heavy bomber.

Identifying the plane and its crew was done from the personal details found on the pilot’s body which was thrown from the plane just before the crash, Compton said. The crew was initially buried in a Protestant cemetery in Vechta before being moved to the Rheinberg War Cemetery.

Queensland woman Pam Compton, formerly of Otautau, has a closure in knowing DNA testing on human remains discovered through earthmoving work in Germany belongs to her uncle, sergeant Henry Pullar. The British bomber plane he was in was shot down at Vechta Airport in Germany during World War II.

They each have a headstone at Rheinberg.

Pullar worked on his family’s farm before enlisting in the Royal New Zealand Airforce in March 1941, at the age of 23. He started his training at Levin and then went to Canada to join the Empire Air Training Scheme.

He was a member of the 75 NZ Squadron RAF and after more training in the UK, was posted to Newmarket in Suffolk.

Ancient Roman Library Discovered Beneath German City

Ancient Roman Library Discovered Beneath German City

The first thing the archaeologists realised when they discovered the foundations of a Roman-era building situated in the heart of Cologne, Germany, they initially thought they had found the ruins of a public assembly hall.

Ancient Roman Library Discovered Beneath German City
Archaeologists identified the library based on a series of wall niches that once housed ancient scrolls

The discovery of tiny wall niches, however—at roughly 31 by 20 inches, the spaces were too small to hold statues—soon led them to conclude otherwise: Here, in the former Roman city of Colonia, stood the country’s oldest known library.

According to the Guardian’s Alison Flood, the wall niches mirror those seen in the Library of Celsus, a 2nd-century Roman building located in modern-day Ephesus, Turkey. (Although that structure’s interior was destroyed by an earthquake in the 3rd century, with the facade following in the 10th or 11th century, Celsus was re-erected by archaeologists during the 1970s.)

Based on this connection, researchers were able to identify the niches as all that remained of cupboards built to house an ancient library’s roughly 20,000 scrolls.

The Cologne structure was built in the southwest corner of the city’s forum, or marketplace, sometime between 150 and 200 C.E., according to Martin Oehlen of German news outlet Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger. 

The Romans had founded Cologne, then known as Colonia, on the banks of the Rhine River about a century earlier in 50 C.E.

The city, which served as the capital of the Germania Inferior province and housed some of Rome’s influential imperial governors, soon emerged as a vibrant trade and manufacturing centre.

Given the library’s central location, Schmitz believes it was open to the entire city rather than a single private citizen or municipal leader. He suggests that locals were free to peruse the building’s expansive collection, perhaps using ladders to reach higher shelves or checking parchment labels to find relevant writings.

Dagmar Breitenbach of German broadcast station Deutsche Welle writes that Marcus Trier, director of the Cologne Bodensekmalpflege (Cologne’s office of historic preservation), estimates the library measured around 66 by 30 feet and stood at two stories tall.

Quite huge’ … detail of the library’s walls.

An annex housing a statue of Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom and warfare, was likely added after initial construction, The Art Newspaper’s Catherine Hickley reports.

“[The structure] is at a minimum the earliest library in Germany, and perhaps in the north-west Roman provinces,” Dirk Schmitz, an archaeologist at the Roman-Germanic Museum of Cologne, tells Flood. But he speculates that there could be more Roman libraries discovered in the future.

“Perhaps there are a lot of Roman towns that have libraries, but they haven’t been excavated,” he adds. “If we had just found the foundations, we wouldn’t have known it was a library. It was because it had walls, with the niches, that we could tell.”

Archaeologists discovered the site while conducting construction work on a Protestant church in Cologne’s city centre, Oehlen notes.

The library will be integrated into the new building’s underground garage, with two would-be parking spaces instead displaying the ancient structure’s walls and three parchment niches.

The western German city on the Rhine River is over 2,000 years old – so stumbling upon ancient ruins is not unusual.

Dated to c. 1600 BC, the Nebra sky disk is one of the most important archaeological finds in the 20th century

Dated to c. 1600 BC, the Nebra sky disk is one of the most important archaeological finds in the 20th century

In the eastern German town of Halle, the 3,600-year-old Sky Disk of Nebra, the world’s oldest image of the cosmos, is the centerpiece of Europe’s greatest Bronze Age exhibition. When it was brought to the German public’s notice in 2002, having been found in the state of Saxony-Anhalt two years earlier, it caused a worldwide sensation.

Now the Sky Disc of Nebra — a bronze disc with gold-leaf appliques representing the sun, moon, stars, and a ship — is back in the limelight, at the opening of a blockbuster show entitled “The Forged Sky: The Wide World in the Heart of Europe 3,600 Years Ago.”

For the first time the disc, which is around 32 centimeters (12 inches) in diameter and weighs about 2 kilos (1 pound), will be on public view in its fully restored state.

Dated to c. 1600 BC, the Nebra sky disk is one of the most important archaeological finds in the 20th century
Archeologists have dated the disc to 1600 B.C.

1,600 artifacts

In addition to the oldest concrete representation of the cosmos known to date, the Forged Sky exhibit, at the State Museum of Prehistory in the town of Halle, will feature the Sun Chariot of Trundholm (Denmark) and 1,600 more of the most important archeological finds representing Europe in the Bronze Age.

When it was discovered, the Sky Disc was considered a key find not only for archaeology but also for astronomy and the history of religion. Deposited some 3,600 years ago, it was found on the summit of the Mittelberg hill, near the wooded area of Nebra in eastern Germany, together with valuable swords, jewelry, and tools.

The find initiated a new presentation of the Bronze Age world in Central Germany. The natural riches of this region — copper, salt, and fertile soils — formed the power basis for the resident Early Bronze Age princes, who exchanged goods from all regions of Europe. Mighty tombs, extensive bronze treasures, gold jewelry, and unique display weapons survive as their status symbols, and a representative sample of them is pulled together for the current blockbuster show.

Crowds expected

“Peoples’ interest in the disc since it was unearthed two years ago has not let up,” Saxony-Anhalt state archeologist Harald Meller told the DPA news agency. He explained: “We put the show together in record time, 18 months.”

Meller said he expects 100,000 people to visit the exhibit. If there is enough interest, he said, the show will be extended. The objects on view have been donated by 68 museums in 18 countries.

“Most of the objects, like burial offerings, cult objects, gold jewelry, and various decorated armaments, have never before been out on loan, and they will only be gathered together like this for the show in Halle,” Meller told DPA. Aside from European countries, Lebanon also loaned some pieces to the show.

Sun chariots and golden boats

For example, the organizers got special permission to borrow the 3,400-year-old Sun Chariot of Trundholm from its home at the National Museum in Copenhagen, for the duration of the Halle show.

Sun Chariot of Trundholm, Denmark

The National Museum had previously decided that, for security reasons, the 50 centimeters long, 30 centimeters high Sun Chariot should never again leave Denmark. Similarly, the 88 super thin golden ships from Nors, Denmark, are so brittle that they hardly ever leave the National Museum, according to museum director Flemming Kaul.

But having a group of artifacts from around Europe is important, because “We show that … there is a long process of developing knowledge about religion and astronomy in Europe, which is part of the history of mankind,” Meller said.

The disc itself was a cult object and describes the world view during the Bronze Age. People imagined the earth as a disc, with a dome-shaped sky covering it. A cluster of seven dots has been interpreted as the Pleiades constellation as it appeared 3,600 years ago.

A Nebra baker made this reproduction of the sun disc out of butter cream and marzipan.

At the same time, the piece is thought to be related to primitive observatories, one of which is the “German Stonehenge” in the nearby town of Goseck.

Archeologists believe the disc may have been used in the pre-calendar Bronze Age as an instrument for determining seasonal changes.

The popularity of the disc has led to a boom in reproductions. Demand for €800 ($990) copies of the disc is booming: “There are already 50 on order, and the fabricator can barely keep up with production,” Meller said.

On the other hand, the disc’s popularity can’t stanch the flood of lawsuits that followed its discovery. Although the copyright case was decided in favor of the state of Saxony-Anhalt, there is still a suit before the Halle appeals courts against two suspected fencers from North-Rhine Westphalia who claim the Sky Disc is a fake that was found outside of Germany.

The disc was found on July 4, 1999, by two convicted grave robbers. In February 2002 it was bought along with other Bronze objects from art fencers in a police operation in Switzerland.

300,000-Year-Old Wooden Throwing Stick Found in Germany

300,000-Year-Old Wooden Throwing Stick Found in Germany

In Germany, a 300,000-year-old hunting stick able to kill big predators has been discovered. Used by the extinct human subspecies Homo heidelbergensis, the wooden throwing stick was capable of killing waterbirds and horses during the Ice Age.

It was achieved by conducting trials and looking at what would strike the target at full height, with the length of the throwing stick being 25 inches, and the speed of 98 feet (30 metres) per second.

German researchers have said the weapon was thrown like a boomerang, with one sharp side and one flat side, and spun powerfully around a centre of gravity. 

300,000-Year-Old Wooden Throwing Stick Found in Germany
The new throwing stick in situ at the time of discovery. The maker of the throwing stick used stone tools to cut the branches flush and then to smooth the surface of the artefact

But when in flight, the weapon, also referred to as ‘rabbit stick’ or ‘killing stick’, did not return to the thrower.

Instead, the rotation helped to maintain a straight, accurate trajectory which increased the likeliness of striking prey.    

Picture of throwing stick from Schöningen, Lower Saxony, Germany, with four views and engravings

‘They are effective weapons over different distances, among other things when hunting water birds,’ said Dr Jordi Serangeli, professor at the Institute for Prehistory, Early History and Medieval Archaeology at the University of Tübingen in Germany. 

‘Bones of swans and ducks are well documented from the find layer. 

‘In addition, it is likely that larger mammals, such as horses that were often hunted on the shores of Lake Schöningen, were startled and driven in a certain direction with the throwing stick.’ 

Hunters on the Schöningen lakeshore likely used the throwing stick to hunt waterbirds

Researchers uncovered the weapon during an archaeological excavation at the Schöningen mine in Lower Saxony, northern Germany. Schöningen has yielded by far the largest and most important record of wooden tools and hunting equipment from the Paleolithic,’ said Professor Nicholas Conard, founding director of the Institute of Archaeological Sciences at the University of Tübingen.

Detailed analysis by the researchers showed how the maker of this type of throwing stick used stone tools to cut the branches flush and then smooth the surface. The stick, carved from spruce wood, is around 25 inches (64.5cm) long, just over 1 inch (2.9cm) in diameter and weighs 264 grams.

This weapon also had fractures and damage consistent with that found on similar experimental examples.

For the first time, researchers say the study provides clear evidence of the function of such a weapon.

Late Lower Palaeolithic hominins in Northern Europe were ‘highly effective hunters’ with a wide array of wooden weapons that are rarely preserved, they say.

‘300,000 years ago, hunters had used different high-quality weapons such as throwing sticks, javelins and thrust lances in combination,’ said Professor Conard.

Researchers attribute the discovery to the ‘outstanding’ preservation of wooden artefacts in the water-saturated lakeside sediments in Schöningen.

‘The chances of finding Paleolithic artefacts made of wood are normally zero.

‘Only thanks to the fabulously good conservation conditions in water-saturated lakeside sediments in Schöningen can we document the evolution of hunting and the varied use of wooden tools.’  The discovery has been detailed further in Nature Ecology & Evolution. 

Prehistoric teeth fossils dating back 9.7 million years ‘could rewrite human history’

Prehistoric teeth fossils dating back 9.7 million years ‘could rewrite human history’

In Southwestern Germany, a team of researchers discovered teeth that were millions of years old and presumably belonged to an ancient Euro-Asian primate last September. Yet after the discovery was made public, controversy opened up about the interpretation of our earliest existence.

News of the sensational discovery was only made public recently since the team who dug up the ancient teeth in the town of Eppelsheim wanted to be sure the find was as significant as they had initially believed.

“It’s completely new to science, and it is a big surprise because nobody had expected such a tremendous, extremely rare discovery,” Herbert Lutz, head of the excavation team at the Natural History Museum in Mainz, told Deutsche Welle.

Lutz had been digging at the site in Eppelsheim for 17 years where the Rhine River used to flow, excavating riverbed sediments approximately 10 million years old. the area is “well known in science” and famous for its primate fossils.

At the end of 2016, as his team decided to finally wrap up the excavation, “just in the last second, these two teeth came to light. We really weren’t expecting such a tremendous discovery,” Lutz said.

The excavation site in Eppelsheim.
The excavation site in Eppelsheim.

Both teeth are completely preserved, too. The teeth look “excellent” and are “shining like amber,” though no longer white, Lutz said.

The 9.7 million-year-old canine tooth and upper molar – found only 60 centimeters apart and thus believed to belong together – resemble those of great apes who lived in Africa 2.9 to 4.4 million years ago. According to Lutz and his colleagues, the teeth closely resemble some extinct African relatives of humans.

Molar (left) and canine (right) fossils found in Germany raise questions about human history. Credit: Naturhistorisches Museum Mainz

Since the official unveiling of the teeth, global media outlets have been questioning whether the find is capable of rewriting human history since it seems to go against theories of human beings originating from Africa.

The teeth are unlike anything found in Europe and Asia, Lutz cautiously claims.

“It’s a complete mystery where this individual came from, and why nobody’s ever found a tooth like this somewhere before,” he said in an interview with Research Gate.

But some experts say that the teeth hardly “force us to reexamine the theory that humans originated from Africa,” arguing that the fossils “more likely belonged to a very distant branch on the primate family tree,” reported National Geographic.

Other experts state that whether the teeth really belong to the hominoid classification (apes, chimpanzees, etc.)  is questionable.

Expert on the teeth of humans’ extinct relatives and paleoanthropologist at the University of Toronto, Bence Viola, says the molar found contradicts any case for a human connection.

“I think this is much ado about nothing,” he told National Geographic. “The molar, which they say clearly comes from the same individual, is absolutely not a hominin, and I would say also not a hominoid.”

The majority of the experts National Geographic spoke to said the molar found likely belongs to a species of an extinct, primitive branch of primates that lived in Asia and Europe between seven and 17 million years ago.