But according to Quam, the verdict is still out as to what species is represented by these eight teeth, which poses somewhat of a challenge for any kind of positive identification.
"While a few of the teeth come from the same individual, most of them are isolated specimens," Quam said. "We know for sure that we're dealing with six individuals of differing ages. Two of the teeth are actually deciduous or 'milk' teeth, which means that these individuals were young children. But the problem is that all the teeth are separate so it's been really hard to determine which species we're dealing with."
According to Quam, rather than rely on individual features, anthropologists use a combination of characteristics to get an accurate reading on species type. For instance, Neandertal teeth have relatively large incisors and very distinctive molars and premolars whereas Homo sapiens teeth are smaller with incisors that are straighter along the 'lip' side of the face. Sometimes the differences are subtle but it's these small changes that make having a number of teeth from the same individual that much more important.
But even though Quam and the team of researchers don't know for sure exactly who the teeth belong to, these dental 'records' are still telling them a lot about the past.
"Teeth are evolutionarily very conservative structures," Quam said. "And so any differences in their features can provide us with all sorts of interesting information about an individual. It can tell us what they ate, what their growth and development patterns looked like as well as what their general health was like during their lifetime. They can also tell us about the evolutionary relationships between species, all of which adds to our knowledge of who we are and where we came from."
Excavation continues at the Qesem site under the direction of Professor Avi Gopher and Dr. Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University. The archaeological mate
|Contact: Gail Glover|