Ancient Teeth–What They Mean and What They Say

Haim Watzman

Scientific papers are not generally thought of as allusive, but, as the article I wrote for Nature this week shows, intentional ambiguity is not foreign to the scientific world.

So are the eight ancient human teeth, some dated as far back as 300,000-400,000 years ago, that Avi Gopher of Tel Aviv University and his colleagues found in Qesem cave really evidence that Homo sapiens evolved here in Israel, as my friend and colleague Matthew Kalman wrote in the Daily Mail? Kalman based his story on Tel Aviv university’s press release, which Gopher vetted and by which he stands. Going out on a shorter limb, other reports in the mainstream press merely said that the discovery proves that modern humans evolved much earlier than the currently accepted 200,000 years before present.

As my article states, bloggers (such as Carl Zimmer and Brian Switek) who follow human evolution news jumped on the disparities between the press reports and the paper that Gopher et al. published in The American Journal of Physical Anthropology. The latter cautiously offers three alternative interpretations of the teeth.

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