The discovery of a baby tooth belonging to an adolescent Neanderthal in northern Italy’s Veneto region is shedding light on the doomed hominid’s final days.
By analyzing the tooth’s genome, fossilization and radiometric age — measured by the decay of radioactive isotopes in organic matter — scientists were able to determine that the “milk tooth” belonged to that of an 11- or 12-year-old child, whose maternal relatives lived in what is now Belgium.
Scientists dated the upper canine back some 45,000 to 48,000 years — not long before their species’ demise about 40,000 years ago.
The study, authored by researchers at the University of Bologna, was published Thursday in the Journal of Human Evolution.
The not-so-pearly-white is the “most recent finding” for northern Italy’s Neanderthal timeline and “one of the latest” in the boot-shaped peninsula, according to the study.
Archaeologists say the Riparo del Broion (riparo meaning “refuge”) dig site in the Berici Hills of Veneto was a prolific site of Neanderthal activity, evidenced by signs of hunting and tool-making.
“This small tooth is extremely important,” said lead researcher Stefano Benazzi in a statement. “This is even more relevant if we consider that, when this child who lived in Veneto lost their tooth, Homo sapiens communities were already present a thousand kilometers away in Bulgaria.”