560,000-Year-Old Human Tooth Discovered in France

Two students uncovered an adult tooth estimated to be around 560,000 years old in a cave in Southern France. It is the oldest human tooth to be discovered in Europe to date.

The tooth was dug up by two volunteers, both 16 years old, during an annual excavation in the Arago Cave in Tautavel, southwestern France, one of the world's most important prehistoric sites, according to French radio station France Bleu.

The large adult tooth, found in soil known to be between 550,000 and 580,000 years old, was hailed as a "major discovery," into the morphology of early Europeans, by the French based European Research Centre Tautavel Pre-Historic, the organisation running the dig.

The tooth is the 149th item of human remains to have been found in the cave over the last 50 years, according to a statement released about the find.

It is not known whether the large tooth, which is a lower central incisor, comes from a male or a female.

Christian Perrenoud, a geo-archaeologist who was working on the site at the time of the discovery, told the Local that the tooth was a "great find", but believes the site has a lot more to reveal.

"Human remains from between 500,000 and 800,000 years ago are more than scarce in Europe nowadays, and this tooth fills a bit of the gap of the incompleteness in this 300,000-year period," Perrenoud said.

Yves Coppens, a professor of paleoanthropology and prehistory at the Collège de France, told France Info radio she hoped the tooth could tell researchers much more after tests are carried out on the tooth.

"A tooth can tell us a whole range of things," she said. "Its shape and wear and tear tells us about the eating habits of the person in question; the tissue reveals a lot of information. The DNA can give an idea as to who this person was."

The Arago Cave in Tautavel where the tooth was found has been the source of many archaeological discoveries, since excavations begun in 1964.

Most notably, the tooth was found yesterday in the same location archaeologists in 1969 unearthed fossils of "Tautavel Man," an extinct hominian (a primate of a family which includes humans and their fossil ancestors), that lived an estimated 450,000 years ago in Europe.

"Tautavel Man" was the first discovery made in the cave, five years after digging began. The volunteer's newest find, predates Tautavel Man by at least 110,000 years.