Dentist Discovers Human-Like Jawbone and Teeth in a Floor Tile at His Parents’ Home

Scientists are planning to study the specimen, embedded in travertine from western Turkey, in hopes of dating and identifying it

Piece of jawbone in tile
An anonymous dentist recognized the jawbone, because it looked similar to the CT scans he reviews every day at work. Kidipadeli75 via Reddit

While visiting his parents’ recently renovated house in Europe, a man spotted something unusual in one of the floor tiles. Upon closer inspection, it appeared to be part of a human jawbone—and it still had a few teeth.

The man could recognize the bone because he’s a dentist, according to a post he made on Reddit last week.

Embedded in a hallway leading to the home’s terrace, the mandible appeared to have been cut at an angle. It reminded the dentist of the CT scans he reviews at work.

“As I am specialized in implant dentistry, I work with this kind of image every day, and it looked very familiar,” he wrote in an email to the Washington Posts Carolyn Y. Johnson.

The man, whose Reddit username is Kidipadeli75, declined to reveal his full name to protect his family’s privacy.

Found a mandible in the travertin floor at my parents house
byu/Kidipadeli75 infossils

He found the jawbone in a tile made of travertine, a type of limestone that typically forms near hot springs. This specific tile came from a quarry in the Denizli Basin of western Turkey. The travertine excavated there formed between 0.7 million and 1.8 million years ago, which suggests the mandible did not come from a person who died recently.

Travertine forms when a change in chemical conditions cause dissolved calcium carbonate to harden into solid rock. It usually solidifies in layers, giving travertine tiles their distinctive and visually appealing look. These layers can trap anything that falls into them, such as leaves, feathers and even dead animals.

As such, the recent jawbone discovery is “somewhere between uncommon and common,” says Andrew Leier, a geologist at the University of South Carolina and chair of the Geological Society of America’s sedimentary geology division, to Architectural Digest’s Katherine McLaughlin.

“But it’s not a crazy thing to happen,” he adds.

Anywhere you find travertine tile, you might also find fossils. The travertine-clad Getty Center in Los Angeles, for instance, is a treasure trove of fossils, including feathers, algae, bacteria, an animal foot and leaves.

Since the anonymous dentist posted about the discovery, he’s been contacted by an international team of researchers, and they’re working with him on a plan to remove the tile for study, reports the Atlantic’s Sarah Zhang. They have also initiated discussions with the company that sold the tile, in hopes of searching for additional remains in other pieces of travertine from the same quarry.

By simply looking at the photo, scientists can’t tell how old the jawbone may be or which species—modern human or early human relative—it may have once belonged to. To sleuth out that information, they hope to run the specimen through a CT scanner and construct a 3D model of it. Chemical analysis of the rock could reveal its age, and samples of the tooth enamel might hold clues to what the jawbone’s owner ate. Teams might even attempt to recover ancient DNA.

However, the photo has revealed at least one interesting tidbit already: The person may have had some dental work done.

“There appear to be absent teeth and the bone tissue has filled into where the teeth once were,” write forensic dental consultants Amber D. Riley and Anthony R. Cardoza in a joint email to Architectural Digest. “Another human potentially intervened and removed teeth due to injury or disease.”

byu/Kidipadeli75 from discussion

Paleoanthropologists have discovered all kinds of fossils in Denizli Basin travertine, including deer, mammoths and reptiles. They’ve also discovered at least one other set of human remains: fragments of a human skull cap that showed signs of tuberculosis. The skull, which is at least 1.1 million years old, represented the first Homo erectus ever found in Turkey, now nicknamed the “Kocabas hominin.”

So, why didn’t anyone notice the jawbone in the travertine at any point before or during installation? John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, took up this question in a blog post titled “How many bathrooms have Neanderthals in the tile?”

Quarry workers make rough cuts of travertine to create large panels, he writes. While doing so, they check for big defects and any gaps before they begin polishing the stone. Then, they typically stack the tiles for shipping and move on quickly.

“Small defects and inclusions are the reason why people want travertine in the first place, so they don’t merit special attention,” Hawks writes. “Consumers who buy travertine usually browse samples in a showroom to choose the type of rock, and they don’t see the actual panels or tile until installation.”

So, the next time you renovate your home with travertine, take the time to thoroughly inspect the tiles. Or, to boost your chances of stumbling upon a fossil, you might only need to travel as far as your local home improvement store.

“Every time I am in Home Depot, I go through the travertine tile looking for fossils,” says John W. Kappelman Jr., a paleoanthropologist at the University of Texas at Austin, to the Washington Post.

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