Research on ancient teeth reveals complexity of human evolution

Fossil records enable a detailed reconstruction of our planet’s history and of the evolution of our species. In particular, teeth are a sort of biological archive that record in their structures (enamel, dentine and pulp chamber) the different phases of the human evolution. An international team of researchers led by Clément Zanolli from the Université Toulouse III Paul Sabatier (France) has characterized human dental remains from Fontana Ranuccio (Latium) and Visogliano (Friuli-Venezia Giulia), Italy through a comparative high-resolution endostructural analysis based on microfocus X-ray microtomography (mCT) scanning and detailed morphological analyses. We examined the shape and arrangement of tooth tissues (see Fig. 1) and compared them with teeth of other human species (see Fig. 2).

With an age of around 450,000 years before present, the analysed dental remains from the sites of Fontana Ranuccio, located 50 km south-east of Rome, and Visogliano, located 18 km north-west of Trieste, are part of a very short list of fossil human remains from Middle Pleistocene Europe and are among the oldest human remains on the Italian Peninsula.
From the data obtained through X-ray μ-CT measurements performed at the TomoLab station of Elettra and at the Multidisciplinary Laboratory of the ‘Abdus Salam’ International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste (Italy), we found that the teeth of both sites share similarities with Neanderthals but they are distinct from modern humans. This study adds to an emerging picture of complex human evolution in Middle Pleistocene Eurasia.  The investigated fossil teeth show that Neanderthal dental features had evolved by around 450,000 years ago.

>Read more on the Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste website

Image: Volume rendering of the Fontana Ranuccio (FR1R and FR2) and Visogliano (Vis. 1-Vis. 6) tooth specimens. The enamel is represented in blue while the dentine in yellow. All specimens were imaged by X-ray μCT at the Tomolab station of Elettra and at the Multidisciplinary Laboratory of the ICTP.     
Credit:  doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0189773