Myanmar’s “Out of Asia” Molars

Four molars found in Myanmar might be changing what we think about the origins of mankind.

Most researchers agree that Homo sapiens originated in Africa some 150,000 years ago and began to migrate throughout Eurasia between 55,000 and 60,000 years ago. In the east our ancestors replaced a rival form of primate known as Homo erectus and in Europe we drove the Neanderthals to extinction.

Going further back than Homo sapiens, Homo erectus or the Neanderthals, however, is where the story starts to get fuzzy. Until recently, researchers believed that primates developed in Africa after the extinction of the dinosaurs some 60 million years ago. Over countless generations, tiny primates evolved and evolved and evolved until they produced the human race.

However, four popcorn-kernel-sized molars found in the swamplands of Myanmar (once known as Burma) have given rise to new notions of where the first primates came from. The new theory is known as the Out-of-Asia theory and proposes that primates did not originally develop in Africa but in Asia roughly 45-37 million years ago. Sometime in that period, say proponents of the theory, primates made their way across Asia and into Africa where they bred and survived for millions of years until producing modern primates such as chimpanzees, gorillas and, of course, humans.

The molars found in Myanmar have been dated back 37 million years. The size of the primate that ate with them: about the same of a small chipmunk. The team of researchers which found the teeth spent six years in the Myanmar swamps and came out with only four specimens. However, experts believe that’s enough to prove that primates are not indigenous to Africa but rather to Asia.

Previously, the oldest known primate teeth were discovered in Libya and date back 39 million years. With the new specimens from Myanmar, however, and other fossils discovered in the area that date back 45 million years, many experts are ready to say that the Libyan teeth are actually those of a primate on the move. The primate found in Libya was not from the area but a relatively recent resident.

Who would have known that a few molars could say so much? Here at Greenspoint, we may not be anthropologists but we’re glad to hear that teeth are playing such a huge role in our understanding of human history.

While we may not be able to do anything with 37 million years old molars, we do have quite a role in keeping present day molars in tact. If you think you may be suffering from a cavity or could just use a routine dental checkup, you should contact Greenspoint Dental today.