The 7.2-million-year-old pre-human tooth that has changed the scientific understanding of human evolution has been exhibited for the general public for the first time, in its “native” town Chirpan. Photo: TV grab from BNT
The tooth, together with another fossil from Graecopithecus freybergi, a 7.175-million-year-old lower jaw found in Athens, Greece, made global headlines in 2017.
Back then an international team of researchers from Germany, Bulgaria, Greece, Canada, France and Australia concluded the two fossils provide evidence that the split of the human lineage occurred in the Balkans, and not in Africa, as conventionally thought.
The 7.2-million-year-old tooth from the Balkan pre-human species has now been returned to Bulgaria’s Chirpan for an exhibition featuring also thousands of other paleontological artifacts, mostly from prehistoric mammals.
The report about the exhibition reveals that the Graecopithecus freybergi tooth from the Azmaka area near Chirpan, which has changed scientific knowledge about the splitting of human lineage, was actually discovered almost a decade ago by a local boy, Tanyo Dimitrov, who was 10 years old at the time, as he was collecting fossils.
All paleontological exhibits in the Chirpan Museum of Paleontology “Gema World” have been gathered by three local amateur archaeologists, Petar Popdimitrov, his daughter Anna Popdimitrova, and his grandson, Tanyo Dimitrov.
Tanyo Dimitrov discovered the 7.2-million-year-old pre-human tooth several years ago when he was 10. Photos: TV grabs from BNT
Popdimitrov himself has been interested in ancient history, archaeology, and paleontology since his childhood. His interest and hobby was later taken up by his daughter and now by his grandson.
He tells the story of the rich paleontology deposits of remains of prehistoric mammals near Chirpan, and the story of another tooth.
“My daughter discovered a paleontological cemetery thanks to a tooth that she thought might turn out to be a dinosaur bone," Popdimitrov has told the Bulgarian National Television.
“Back then they had started digging up construction materials for the construction of the [Trakiya] Highway, and I found this tooth," his daughter explains.
The well-preserved deinotherium skull is one of the most valuable fossils of the Chirpan Museum of Paleontology. Photos: TV grabs from BNT
The discovery turned out to be so intriguing that it brought to Chirpan leading paleontologists from Bulgaria and France, including famous French scholar Herbert Thomas.
“As he was about to leave, Herbert Thomas was looking at our collection, and said, ‘It would be no surprise if you discover the oldest human tooth here,’" Anna Popdimitrova recalls.
She emphasizes that is exactly what happened: it was her son, back then at the age of 10, who found the 7.2-million-year-old tooth.
“We’ve been going to this spot to collect lots of fossils. I thought that was a tooth from a herbivore and I gave it to my grandfather," Tanyo Dimitrov explains.
Shortly after that, the tooth was examined by paleontologists from the National Museum of Natural History in Sofia led by its Director, Prof. Nikolay Spasov.
“They took it for further study to France, then to Greece, and they found that it was from this species, Graecopithecus freybergi, except where we are it is considered a Chirpanopithecus," the young discoverer jokes.
Another very intriguing fossil exhibited alongside the pre-human tooth in Bulgaria’s Chirpan is a very well preserved skull of a species of deinotherium, a family of prehistoric mammals related to modern-day elephants.
“Only four such skulls [of the said deinotherium species] have been discovered in the world but this one here is best preserved," Popdimitrov says.
In addition to the hominin tooth and the deinotherium skull, the Chirpan Museum of Paleontology boasts a collection of over 5,000 prehistoric fossils.
The Chirpan Museum of Paleontology in Southern Bulgaria has a collection of over 5,000 fossils. Photos: TV grabs from BNT
Bulgaria boasts several truly intriguing paleontology museums with rich collections of fossils of prehistoric mammals, which are still little known but are rapidly gaining in popularity.
In addition to the Chirpan Museum of Paleontology, these include the Paleontology Museum of Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” in Sofia, the Asenovgrad Museum of Paleontology, and the Pliocene Park Museum in Dorkovo, Velingrad Municipality, with its life size model of an Anancus arvernensis mastodon, among others.
The mastodon tooth found near Chirpan that impressed French paleontologist Herbert Thomas. Photos: TV grabs from BNT
All fossils in the collection of the paleontology museum in Bulgaria’s Chirpan have been collected by the family of Petar Popdimitrov (above) and his daughter Ana (below), amateur archaeologists. Photos: TV grabs from BNT