Raw Science: The 600,000 year-old human who lost 2 teeth in the II World War.

Homo heidelbergensis’s jaw (Mauer 1), dated to circa 600,000 B.C. | Credit: S.P. Acebrón
Homo heidelbergensis’s jaw (Mauer 1), dated to circa 600,000 B.C. | Credit: S.P. Acebrón

In 1907, Daniel, a miner working in Mauer, near Heidelberg (Germany), found a jaw of unequivocally human origin. The bone was a complete jaw but lacked the characteristic prominent chin of our species, Homo sapiens. The fossil was identified as the first of a new species, Homo heidelbergensis, a 600,000 year-old ancestor. The oldest European human-like creature known at the time.

During the II World War many pieces of German museums were kept underground to protect them from the Allies’ bombings. The Homo heidelbergensis’s jaw, arguably the most important fossil at the time, was hidden in a salt mine near Heidelberg. When the war ended, the paleontologists came back to recover the piece and found the secret vault had been looted by American soldiers. The soldiers had taken many things but threw away the bone.

The jaw was found in one of the mine tunnels, broken and missing two teeth, which were never found.

Recent tomography studies on the jaw demonstrated that she or he (sexual dimorphism does not show in human jaws) recovered from a jaw fracture at some point, suggesting that someone took care of her or him for a while. Someone more careful than those soldiers. 600,000 years ago.

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