Spanish researchers on Friday said they had unearthed a human tooth more than one million years old, which they estimated to be the oldest human fossil remain ever discovered in western Europe.
Jose Maria Bermudez de Castro, co-director of research at the Atapuerca site said the molar, discovered on Wednesday in the Atapuerca Sierra in the northern province of Burgos, could be as much as 1.2 million years old.
"The tooth represents the oldest human fossil remain of western Europe. Now we finally have the anatomical evidence of the hominids that fabricated tools more than one million years ago," the Atapuerca Foundation said in a statement.
In 1994 at the nearby Gran Dolina site several Homo antecessor fossils were uncovered, suggesting human occupation of Europe around 800,000 years ago, whereas scientists had previously believed the continent had only been inhabited for around half a million years.
The Sierra Atapuerca contains several caves such as the Gran Dolina site, where fossils and stone tools of Europe's earliest known hominids have been found.
Researchers found the molar in the Sima del Elefante section of the sierra which had previously yielded fossils from mammals including bison, deer and bear as well as birds and a mouse.
One of three paleontologists leading the expedition, said the fossil appeared to be "well worn" and from an individual aged between 20-25.
Excavations in recent years in the sierra have uncovered human remains ranging from early humans through the Bronze Age to modern man.
Atapuerca's most famous site is "Sima de los Huesos" (pit of bones) and fossils found there date from at least 350,000 years ago.
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Million-year-old human tooth found in Spain
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