Jaw-dropping discovery: 450,000-year-old tooth unearthed in Iran

Jaw-dropping discovery: 450,000-year-old tooth unearthed in Iran
Jaw-dropping discovery: 450,000-year-old tooth unearthed in Iran / CC: Fararu
By bne Tehran bureau May 24, 2024

French and Iranian archaeologists have discovered the oldest evidence of occupation in Iran's Central Plateau at Qaleh Kurd Cave in Qazvin, pushing back the timeline of human settlement in the region by over 300,000 years.

The Iranian Central Plateau, flanked by the Alborz and Zagros Mountains, is a key archaeological area due to its strategic location at the crossroads of the Levant, the Caucasus, Central Asia and East Asia. This positioning has made it a vital corridor for human migration and interaction during the Pleistocene period.

This ground-breaking find includes a human deciduous tooth and a rich assemblage of lithic and faunal materials, offering new insights into early human dispersals across the region, according to the new research in the Journal of Paleolithic Archaeology on May 23.

The joint Iranian and French Paleoanthropological Project revealed that the cave, situated at the western edge of the Central Plateau near the Zagros Mountains, was occupied by humans approximately between 452,000 and 165,000 years ago.

This finding now significantly predates previous evidence of human habitation in the area, which had been dated to around 80,000 years ago.

The human tooth, a first upper molar, along with the lithic and faunal assemblages, indicates that the cave was recurrently occupied by early Middle Paleolithic cultures.

These findings suggest cultural connections with contemporary assemblages in the Caucasus and the Levant, and later Middle Paleolithic cultures in the Zagros region, the research noted in its public findings.

Also, horse bones from the cave show evidence of extensive butchery, highlighting the location's role in early human subsistence practices.

"This discovery not only enriches our understanding of human evolution in the Middle Pleistocene but also underscores the significance of the Iranian Plateau as a crossroads for ancient human populations moving between the Levant, Caucasus, Central Asia and East Asia," according to one researcher, who asked not to be named, that spoke with bne IntelliNews at the University of Tehran.

Significant discoveries are being made across the region, with only last week, Russian archaeologists announcing they conducted their first fieldwork in Iraq’s Maysan Province after several decades, in a sign of growing cooperation between Baghdad and Moscow.

Arriving in Iraq as part of the Russian-Iraqi Joint Expedition Programme marked the first foreign expedition in Maysan Province and pointed to a return of academics from abroad to the central provinces of the country after decades of absence due to war and several invasions

Numerous fragments of painted ceramics, small plastic objects and several ornaments were unearthed. The decorations on the ancient pottery were applied with bitumen and ochre.

However, it's not plain sailing for archaeologists in the region, with several complications, including visas and political instability, causing issues in joint projects between countries.

Also, the increasing levels of rainfall in recent years in the region, albeit welcome, have caused issues for historical sites, with reports in October 2023 of the famous Naqsh-e Rostam site in Iran’s Fars Province being at risk of collapse due to heavy rains and subsidence.

Located near the renowned ruins of Persepolis, the site hosts the tombs of Achaemenid kings such as Darius the Great and Xerxes, along with an extensive collection of rock reliefs from various Iranian dynasties.

With 27 sites, Iran is among the top 10 countries with the most cultural heritage sites on UNESCO's World Heritage List. However, amidst a severe economic crisis, the government has deprioritised spending on the country's cultural heritage to increase its military budget.