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11/03/2011 08:42 pm ET Updated Jan 03, 2012

Earliest Europeans: Teeth Found Dated To 45,000 Years Ago

European history just got a little older.

Two corresponding studies published in Nature have emerged, both providing evidence that the earliest Europeans settled in the content 5,000 years prior to what researchers previously thought. That's not all.

It seems that the extended time period links early modern humans to Neanderthals, suggesting that they may have mated for an extended period of time.

"During this time it is very likely that some contact must have been achieved, but there is no direct evidence for it," Stefano Benazzi, a physical anthropologist at the University of Vienna, told Discovery News.

Benazzi's study focused on two teeth found in 1964 at Grotta del Cavallo in Italy, while a separate study took a closer look at three teeth attached to a piece of a jawbone found in a British cave called Kent’s Cavern in 1927. According to Science News, the Italian study dated the teeth back to between 45,000 and 43,000 years ago, while the British study, led by archaeologist Tom Higham of the University of Oxford in England, traced those teeth back to between 44,200 and 41,500 years ago.

The findings make both samples the oldest evidence of modern human habitation in their respective regions, and, depending on the actual dates of the teeth, the oldest in Europe.

According to the Associated Press, New York University anthropologist Shara Bailey (who has no connection to the research) writes the studies "push back the time when we can absolutely say" modern people occupied Europe.

While genetic research has shown that modern humans must have mated with Neanderthals in the past, these new findings increase their time period for exposure to each other.

From The Guardian:

The age of the remains puts modern humans at the edge of the habitable world at the time and increases the period over which they shared the land with Neanderthals, our close relatives who evolved in Europe and Asia.

Modern humans are known to have interbred with Neanderthals, leaving their mark in the genomes of many people alive today, and are implicated in their demise 30,000 years ago, perhaps by outcompeting them for food and other crucial resources.

According to Discovery News, the teeth all belong to what scientists refer to as the Uluzzian culture. These early humans are known for their use of shell and bone tools, as well as the development of symbolic behaviors like wearing jewlery and tattooing.