Scientists celebrate as million-year-old human tooth is found

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Scientists in Spain were yesterday celebrating the discovery of a tooth from a distant human ancestor more than one million years old - the oldest human fossil found in western Europe.

The tooth, a pre-molar, was discovered on Wednesday at the Atapuerca site in Spain's Burgos province, where caves containing evidence of prehistoric human occupation have been found.

It is the most significant find in the area since 1994, when fossilised remains of Homo antecessor (pioneer), believed to date back 800,000 years, were found.

"Now we finally have the anatomical evidence of the hominids [two-legged primates] that fabricated tools more than one million years ago," said the Atapuerca Foundation in a statement. Researchers believe the tooth came from an individual aged 20 to 25 and are working to confirm thespecies. They are confident it is at least 1.2 million years old because of the age of the rock in which it was found.

"The tooth was in a good condition... it surpasses all our expectations," said José María Bermúdez de Castro, co-director of the site.

To date, the oldest evidence of humans in Europe are the 1.8 million-year-old skulls found at Dmanisi, near Tbilisi, in Georgia.