A tooth belonging to an early human sub-species was unearthed recently in France—but the tooth fairy is about 560,000 years too late.
Phys.org reports that the rare discovery was made by a 16-year-old volunteer archaeologist during a dig inside a cave near Tautavel, a French commune in the Pyrenees near the Spanish border. Scientists say the tooth—a worn lower incisor—likely belonged to a member of the Homo heidelbergensis species, which lived about 700,000 to 200,000 years ago.
"These are certainly different from modern humans. They existed before Neanderthals,” Dr. Matthew Skinner, a paleoanthropologist from Britain’s University of Kent, tells phys.org. “They had quite large brains and fairly complex behavior but weren't modern in the way that we are.”
Using other evidence found in the cave, anthropologists were able to piece together a portrait of what life was like for prehistoric people who lived or frequented the area. They hunted reindeer, bison, and rhinos, and endured frigid and dry weather conditions.
Paleoanthropologists determined how old the tooth is by using dating methods on the soil it was found in. The tooth is about 100,000 years older than a skull of an early hominid dubbed the “Tautavel Man” that was discovered at the same site in 1971. To date, about 140 fossils of prehistoric human remains have been unearthed at Tautavel, which scientists say may have been a temporary shelter for hunters or a more permanent settlement.