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First teeth of anatomically modern humans detected in Italy

Xinhua | Updated: 2015-04-26 15:13

A team of researchers found that two teeth from prehistoric sites in northern Italy are the oldest modern human remains overlapping in time with the last Neandertals.

The team, composed of Italian and German researchers, analyzed two deciduous teeth from the prehistoric sites of Riparo Bombrini in Western Ligurian Alps and Grotta di Fumane in Western Lessini Mountains, in northern Italy.

The teeth, a deciduous incisor and an upper deciduous incisor, were respectively found in 1976 and 1992 but so far it had been impossible to establish their origins.

"Today it was possible thanks to new technologies and digital methods such as ancient DNA and high-resolution computed tomography as well as radiocarbon dating," the team leader Stefano Benazzi, a physical anthropologist of the University of Bologna, told Xinhua on Friday.

Benazzi said the state-of-the-art methods adopted in this research attribute the teeth to anatomically modern humans. "They result to date back to 42,000-40,000 years ago, a period when interesting prehistoric cultures spread across Europe before the demise of Neandertals," he explained.

"In particular, we attribute the teeth to the Protoaurignacian culture, which was characterized by a remarkable set of technological innovations in stone knapping and bone tool industries, as well as by the large use of personal ornaments," he said.

Since the Protoaurignacian overlapped in time with the last Neandertals, it is pivotal to identify the makers of this culture to shed light on the demise of Neandertals.

"It means that the arrival of members of our species (Homo sapiens) in Europe belonging to the Protoaurignacian culture may have been the ultimate cause for the demise of Neandertals, which likely disappeared around 39,000 years ago," Benazzi went on explaining to Xinhua.

He highlighted the result, which was published earlier this week in the journal Science, will have strong implications for the understanding of the interaction between modern humans and Neandertals, as well as for the debate on the extinction of the latter.

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