Crown tissue proportions and enamel thickness distribution in early Pleistocene Homo antecessor maxillary premolars (Atapuerca, Spain)

Objectives Both morphometric and proteomic studies have revealed the close relationship of Homo antecessor with Neanderthals and H. sapiens. Considering this relationship, we aim to characterize the Early Pleistocene Atapuerca-Gran Dolina (TD6) maxillary premolars to test if their pattern of enamel thickness is shared with Neanderthals or H. sapiens. Materials and Methods We employed microcomputed tomography to estimate 2D and 3D tissue proportions in seven H. antecessor maxillary premolars, belonging to two individuals: H1 and H3, and compared them to a sample of extinct and extant Homo populations of African, Asian and European origin (n = 52). Results Our results reveal a different pattern of enamel thickness between the Atapuerca-Gran Dolina two individuals. While TD6-H1 possesses thin-enameled crowns, with a clear affinity with Neanderthals, TD6-H3 exhibits the thick pattern, a trait shared with the majority of fossil hominins and H. sapiens. Discussion This work provides new data on upper premolar enamel thickness in H. antecessor. By documenting both a thin and a thick pattern of enamel thickness in the TD6 sample, we warn about the taxonomic utility of this feature in the characterization of isolated remains. We suggest that the thin enamel condition would have emerged during the Early Pleistocene and it became the most frequent and typical condition in Neanderthals. Possible causes for the pattern observed in TD6 include sexual dimorphism or presence of two populations in the sample; however, population variability is the most plausible explanation with a character expression intermediate between those of Neanderthals and other members of the genus Homo. This interpretation is compatible with the phylogenetic position of H. antecessor close to the ancestor of Neanderthals and H. sapiens.

Dental remains of the Middle Pleistocene hominins from the Sima de los Huesos site (Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain): Mandibular dentition

The Middle Pleistocene site of the Sima de los Huesos (Sierra de Atapuerca, northern Spain) has yielded a considerable number of human fossils during the period 1984–2020. Among them, up to 314 mandibular teeth have been identified. In this second paper dedicated to the dentition we present the description of the eight dental classes of the mandible following the Arizona State University Dental Anthropology System (ASUDAS) classification. In addition, we show the mean mesiodistal and buccolingual diameters obtained in these teeth compared to those of Neanderthals and a modern human sample. The morphology of both the anterior and posterior teeth suggests a close relationship of the Sima de los Huesos hominins with the populations of the second half of the Middle Pleistocene of Europe and the Near East, as well as with the so-called classic Neanderthals of Europe. The combination of dental traits in these populations is characteristic and diagnostic and suggests grouping the Sima de los Huesos hominins with the other paleodemes in a Neanderthal clade. The dental evidence of the Sima de los Huesos hominins is key to propose a complex model for the settlement of Europe during the Middle Pleistocene. In this period, different migrations of human groups probably coming from Southwest Asia, replacements, prolonged isolations, as well as hybridization and introgression processes would have contributed to the diversity of hominins in Europe.

Dental remains of the Middle Pleistocene hominins from the Sima de los Huesos site (Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain): Maxillary dentition

The Middle Pleistocene site of the Sima de los Huesos (Sierra de Atapuerca, northern Spain) has yielded a considerable number of human fossils during the period 1984–2020. Among them, up to 253 maxillary teeth have been recovered. In this article, we present the description of the eight dental classes of the maxilla following the Arizona State University Dental Anthropology System classification. In addition, we present the mean mesiodistal and buccolingual diameters of these teeth compared to those of Neanderthals and a modern human sample. The morphology of both the anterior and posterior teeth suggests a close relationship of the Sima de los Huesos hominins with the populations of the second half of the Middle Pleistocene of Europe and the Near East, as well as with the so-called classic Neanderthals of Europe. Features with a recognizable taxonomic signal allow grouping the Sima de los Huesos hominins with different paleodemes into a Neanderthal clade. The dental evidence of the Sima de los Huesos hominins is key to suggest a complex model for the settlement of Europe during the Middle Pleistocene. During this period, different migrations of human groups probably coming from Southwest Asia, replacements, prolonged isolations, as well as hybridization and introgression processes would have contributed to the diversity of hominins in Europe.

Similarities and differences in the dental tissue proportions of the deciduous and permanent canines of Early and Middle Pleistocene human populations

The two- and three-dimensional assessment of dental tissues has become routine in human taxonomic studies throughout the years. Nonetheless, most of our knowledge of the variability of the enamel and dentine dimensions of the human evolutionary lineage comes from the study of permanent dentition, and particularly from molars. This leads to a biased view of the variability of these features. Due to their early formation and rapid development, the deciduous teeth allow more simplified inferences regarding the processes involved in the dental tissue development of each group. Therefore, their study could be very valuable in dental palaeohistology. In this research, we have explored the dental tissue proportions of the deciduous canines belonging to some human samples of the Early and Middle Pleistocene. The purpose of this was to discuss the meaning of the similarities and differences observed in their histological pattern, as well as to evaluate the degree of covariance with that observed in the permanent dentition of these populations. Our results show that, although there are some similarities in the dental tissue proportions between the deciduous and permanent canines of the study samples, the two dental classes do not provide a similar or comparable pictures of the dental tissue pattern present in the dentition of fossil hominins. Future works on the dental tissue patterns of the anterior and posterior dentition, including deciduous teeth, of fossil samples, may help to shed light on this hypothesis.

Early and Middle Pleistocene hominins from Atapuerca (Spain) show differences in dental developmental patterns

The Bayesian statistical approach considers teeth as forming a developmental module, as opposed to a tooth-by-tooth analysis. This approach has been employed to analyze Upper Pleistocene hominins, including Neandertals and some anatomically modern humans, but never earlier populations. Here, we show its application on five hominins from the TD6.2 level of the Gran Dolina site (Homo antecessor, Early Pleistocene) and the Sima de los Huesos site (Middle Pleistocene) of the Sierra de Atapuerca (Burgos, northern Spain). Our results show an advanced development of the third molars in both populations with respect to modern Homo sapiens. In addition, the Sima de los Huesos hominins differ from H. sapiens and H. antecessor in the relatively advanced development of their second molar. The relative mineralization of I1/M1 in H. antecessor appears to be similar to that of modern humans, as opposed to that of Neandertals, which appear to be unique. These observations, combined with reduced enamel formation times and the advanced development of the third molars, appear to indicate a shorter ontogenetic period in the hominins from Gran Dolina and Sima de los Huesos in comparison to modern human average.