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Homo antecessor

Introduction

The species Homo antecessor is another very controversial species designation. The species was designated by J.L. Arsuaga et al. to the remains of several individuals found at the Gran Dolina site, Spain. The discovery was significant because the remains have been securely dated at over 780 kyr. This makes the material the earliest known European specimens. The find breathed new life into the argument for the validity of H. heidelbergensis, as well as creating a whole new species: H. antecessor.

The most complete specimen is Hominid 3, which is also the type specimen for antecessor. This is unusual because Hominid 3 is a 10-year old, and therefore has not fully developed its skeletal characteristics. The specimen was chosen because it highlighted all the features that the researchers were attempting to describe as typic of the species. However, these features are all variable (even within the small sample from Gran Dolina itself!), and none are autapomorphic. Few researchers accept the antecessor taxon, instead considering the material heidelbergensis. H. antecessor may become a chronospecies (as many argue heidelbergensis is itself), but it has a very weak claim as a direct human ancestor or as a distinct taxon from heidelbergensis or erectus.

Diagnostic Features

Gran Dolina is a site in the Sierra de Atapuerca of Burgos, Spain. At present it holds the distinction of being the oldest hominid-bearing site in Europe. The material from the site was located in layer TD6, which is associated with a paleomagnetic reversal at 780 kyr, making this material at least that old and possibly older. This evidence is corroborated by faunal remains that indicate a date prior to the Burnese Normal.

Remains have been found from at least six individuals from the site, with Hominid 3 the best-preserved of the material. Hominid 3 is a juvenile (probably female) that was approximately 10-11.5 years old at the time of death. This specimen has been named the type specimen of H. antecessor since it clearly shows the features that the Spanish researches were trying to highlight. The specimen shows a mixture of "archaic" and "modern" traits, with an especially modern-looking midface. Some of Hominid 3's features include:

All of these features can be found in earlier ergaster/erectus or in later heidelbergensis. Moreover, many of the features that purport to set it apart from heidelbergensis are not autapomorphic, and appear in some specimens of both taxons, making a distinction based on morphological characteristics suspect. This material is likely to be considered part of heidelbergensis, or antecessor may gain status as a chronospecies due to its age compared to known heidelbergensis specimens.

An important feature that was discovered when the remains were examined were cut marks that were present on most of the material. Some 12 parallel cut marks on a temporal fragment (ATD 6-16) appear where the sternocleidomastoid muscle attaches, and cut marks also appear clearly on two foot phalanges where the flexor muscle lies, indicating dismemberment was the probably goal of the cutting. Faunal material shows the same marks as the hominid remains, with very few carnivore tooth marks appearing on the material, showing that hominids were mainly responsible for processing these bones. This is the earliest well-documented case of cannibalism in a hominid population, and this information is important for deciphering the behavior of early hominids.

Conclusions

Whether or not one accepts antecessor as a valid taxon, the Gran Dolina site is extremely important for several reasons: it is the earliest (and very securely) dated hominid-bearing site in Europe proper (excluding the Dmanisi site in the Republic of Georgia), it has the remains of several well-preserved individuals, it has post-cranial remains in conjunction with cranial remains, it shows evidence of behavior, and it is still bearing material. H. antecessor is likely to be tossed as an invalid taxon in the future, but it may become a chonospecies to designate some of the earliest hominids in Europe.


Bibliography

This bibliography contains the sources of the information cited above, as well as any sources that could provide any other information on the subject. If you know of any other sources that are pertinent to H. antecessor, please e-mail me the citation in the format used below, and I will add it to the list. Any problems with information I presented above can be sent to me here. I don't want to provide misinformation, and any corrections are gladly accepted (with proper documentation of what is wrong and why, with sources). Thanks!

Arsuaga, J.L., I. Martínez, C. Lorenzo, A. Gracia, A. Muñoz, O. Alonso, and J. Gallego. 1999. "The human cranial remains from Gran Dolina Lower Pleistocene site (Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain)." In Journal of Human Evolution, vol. 37, no. 3/4, pp. 431-457.

Bermúdez de Castro, J.M., E. Carbonell, I. Cáceres, J.C. Diez, Y. Fernández-Jalvo, M. Mosquera, A. Ollé, J. Rodríguez, X.P. Rodríguez, A. Rosas, J. Rosell, R. Sala, J.M. Vergès, and J. van der Made. 1999. "The TD6 (Aurora stratum) hominid site. Final remarks and new questions." In Journal of Human Evolution, vo. 37, no. 3/4, pp. 695-700.

Bermúdez de Castro, J.M., A. Rosas, and M.E. Nicholás. 1999. "Dental remains from Atapuerca-TD6 (Gran Dolina site, Burgos, Spain)." In Journal of Human Evolution, vol. 37, no. 3/4, pp. 523-566.

Carbonell, E. Bermúdez de Castro, J.M., J.L Arsuaga, J.C. Diez, A. Rosas, G. Cuenca-Bescós, R. Sala, M. Mosquera, and X.P. Rodríguez. 1995. "Lower Pleistocene hominids and artifacts from Atapuerca-TD6 (Spain)." In Science, vol. 269, pp. 826-830.

Carbonell, E., M. Esteban, A.M. Nájera, M. Mosquera, X.P. Rodríguez, A. Ollé, R. Sala, J.M Vergès, J.M. Bermúdez de Castro, and A.I. Ortega. 1999. "The Pleistocene site of Gran Dolina, Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain: A history of the archaeological investigations." In Journal of Human Evolution, vol. 37, no. 3/4, pp. 313-324.

Carbonell, E., M. García-Antón, C. Mallol, M. Mosquera, A. Ollé, X.P. Rodríguez, M. Sanouni, and J.M. Vergès. 1999. "The TD6 level lithic industry from Gran Dolina, Atapuerca (Burgos, Spain): Production and use." In Journal of Human Evolution, vo. 37, no. 3/4, pp. 653-693.

Carretero, J.M., C. Lorenzo, and J.L. Arsuaga. 1999. "Axial and appendicular skeleton of Homo antecessor." In Journal of Human Evolution, vol. 37, no. 3/4, pp. 459-499.

Cuenca-Bescós, C. Laplana, and J.I. Canudo. 1999. "Biochronological implications of the Arvicolidae (Rodentia, Mammalia) from the Lower Pleistocene hominid-bearing level of Trinchera Dolina 6 (TD6, Atapuerca, Spain)." In Journal of Human Evolution, vol. 37, no. 3/4, pp. 353-373.

Diez, J.C., Y. Fernández-Jalvo, J. Rosell, and I. Cáceres. 1999. "Zooarchaeology and taphonomy of Aurora Stratum (Gran Dolina, Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain)." In Journal of Human Evolution, vol. 37, no. 3/4, pp. 623-652.

Falguéres, C., J.-J. Behain, Y. Yokoyama, J.L. Arsuaga, J.M. Bermúdez, E. Carbonell, J.L. Bischoff, and J.-M. Dolo. 1999. "Earliest humans in Europe: The age of TD6, Gran Dolina, Atapuerca, Spain." In Journal of Human Evolution, vol. 37, no. 3/4, pp. 343-352.

Fernández-Jalvo, Y., J.C. Diez, J.M. Bermúdez de Castro, E. Carbonell, and J.L. Arsuaga. 1996. "Evidence of early cannibalism." In Science, vol. 271, pp. 277-278.

Fernández-Jalvo, Y., J. Carlos Diez, I. Cáceres, and J. Rosell. 1999. "Human cannibalism in the Early Pleistocene in Europe (Gran Dolina, Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain)." In Journal of Human Evolution, vol. 37, no. 3/4, pp. 591-622.

García, N., J.L. Arsuaga. 1999. "Carnivores from the Early Pleistocene hominid-bearing Trinchera Dolina 6 (Sierra de Atapuerca)." in Journal of Human Evolution, vol. 37, no. 3/4, pp. 415-430.

Gutin, J.C. 1995. "Remains in Spain now reign as oldest Europeans." In Science, vol. 269, pp. 754-755.

Johanson, D., and B. Edgar. 1996. From Lucy to Language. New York: Simon and Schuster Editions.

Lorenzo, C., J.L. Arsuaga, J.M. Carretero. 1999. "Hand and foot remains from the Gran Dolina Early Pleistocene site (Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain)." In Journal of Human Evolution, vol. 37, no. 3/4, pp. 501-522.

Parés, J.M., and A. Pérez-González. 1995. "Paleomagnetic age for hominid fossils in Atapuerca archaeological site, Spain." In Science, vol. 269, pp. 830-832.

Parés, J.M., and A. Pérez-González. 1999. "Magnetochronology and stratigraphy at Gran Dolina section, Atapuerca, Spain (Burgos, Spain)." In Journal of Human Evolution, vol. 37, no. 3/4, pp. 325-342.

Rosas, A., and J.M. Bermúdez de Castro. 1999. "The ATD6-5 mandibular specimen from Gran Dolina (Atapuerca, Spain). Morphological study and phylogenetic implications." In Journal of Human Evolution, vol. 37, no. 3/4, pp. 567-590.

Sánchez-Marco, A. 1999. "Implications of the avian fauna of for paleoecology in the Early Pleistocene of the Iberian Peninsula." In Journal of Human Evolution, vo. 37, no. 3/4, pp. 375-388.

van der Made, J. 1999. "Ungulates from Atapuerca TD6." In Journal of Human Evolution, vol. 37, no. 3/4, pp. 389-413.

Wolpoff, M. 1999. Paleoanthropology. second edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill.


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