The Chinese Middle Pleistocene fossils from Hexian, Xichuan, Yiyuan, and Zhoukoudian have been generally classified as Homo erectus s.s. These hominins share some primitive features with other Homo specimens, but they also display unique cranial and dental traits. Thus, the Chinese Middle Pleistocene hominins share with other European and Asian hominin populations the so-called ‘Eurasian dental pattern’. The late Early Pleistocene hominins from Gran Dolina-TD6.2 (Spain), representing the species Homo antecessor, also exhibit the Eurasian dental pattern, which may suggest common roots. To assess phylogenetic affinities of these two taxa, we evaluated and compared nonmetric and metric dental features and interpreted morphological differences within a comparative hominin framework. We determined that the robust roots of the molars, the shelf-like protostylid, the dendrite-like pattern of the enamel-dentine junction surface of the upper fourth premolars and molars, the strongly folded dentine of the labial surface of the upper incisors, and the rare occurrence of a mid-trigonid crest in the lower molars, are all characteristic of Chinese H. erectus. With regard to H. antecessor, we observed the consistent expression of a continuous mid-trigonid crest, the absence of a cingulum in the upper canines, a complex root pattern of the lower premolars, and a rhomboidal occlusal contour and occlusal polygon and protrusion in the external outline of a large a bulging hypocone in the first and second upper molars. Using two-dimensional geometric morphometrics, we further demonstrated that H. antecessor falls outside the range of variation of Chinese H. erectus for occlusal crown outline shape, the orientation of occlusal grooves, and relative locations of anterior and posterior foveae in the P4s, P3s, M1s, M2s, and M2s. Given their geographic and temporal separation, the differences between these two species suggest their divergence occurred at some point in the Early Pleistocene, and thereafter they followed different evolutionary paths.
Here, we present a metric and morphological study of the molar remains from the Montmaurin-La Niche mandible by means of microcomputed tomography. According to the last analysis, based on the combination of geomorphological and paleontological data, the level bearing this human mandible probably corresponds to the marine isotope stages (MIS) 7. These data place the Montmaurin-La Niche in a chronologically intermediate position between the Neanderthals and the Middle Pleistocene fossils (e.g., Sima de los Huesos, la Caune de l’Arago). A recent study has revealed that while the mandible is more closely related to the Early and Middle Pleistocene African and Eurasian populations, the morphology of the outer enamel surfaces of its molars is typical of the Neanderthal linage. The data presented here are in line with this finding because the morphology of the enamel-dentine junction of the molars is similar to that of Neanderthals, whereas the absolute and relative enamel thickness values (2D and 3D) are closer to those exhibited by some Early Pleistocene hominins. Moreover, the pulp cavity morphology and proportions are in concordance with the Neanderthal populations. Our results strengthen the hypothesis that the settlement of Europe could be the result of several migrations, at different times, originated from a common source population. Thus, the variability in the European Middle Pleistocene populations (e.g., Montmaurin, Sima de los Huesos, Arago, Mala Balanica) could indicate different migrations at different times and/or population fragmentation, without excluding the possible hybridization between residents and new settlers.
Sexual dimorphism is an important component of the total variation seen in populations and plays a key role in taxonomic debates. In this study, microtomographic (microcomputed tomography) techniques were applied to a sample of hominin teeth from the Sima de los Huesos site (Spain). Dental tissue proportions of the permanent canines were assessed to characterize the pattern and degree of sexual dimorphism within this population. In addition, the possible similarities and differences with the Homo neanderthalensis remains from Krapina (Croatia) and with a recent modern human sample were evaluated. A combination of classical statistical approaches with more novel techniques allowed us not only to ratify the sex allocation of the individuals previously assigned in the literature but also to estimate the sex of the youngest individuals, which were not assessed in previous studies. Likewise, the sexes of certain extensively worn canines and isolated pieces were estimated. As a result, the sex ratio observed in our dental sample from the Sima de los Huesos population is 5:9 (Nm:Nf). In general terms, both Sima de los Huesos and Krapina dental samples have a degree of sexual dimorphism in their permanent canine tissue proportions that does not surpass that of modern humans. The marked dimorphic root volume of Sima de los Huesos mandibular canines is the exception, which surpasses the modern human mean, although it falls within the 95% confidence interval. Therefore, our results do not support that dental tissue proportions of the European Middle Pleistocene populations were more dimorphic than in modern humans. However, the differences in canine tissue proportions are great enough to allow sex estimation with a high degree of confidence.
Here we present the descriptive and comparative study of two immature scapulae recovered from the TD6.2 level of the Gran Dolina cave site (Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain) and assigned to Homo antecessor. This is the first time that data on the morphology and dimensions of the scapulae of a European late Early Pleistocene hominin population are provided. Considering the state of development and the linear dimensions, the scapula ATD6-116 could belong to a child of about 2–4 years. The morphology of ATD6-116 clearly departs from that of the Australopithecus afarensis juvenile specimen DIK-1-1, pointing to functional differences in locomotor behavior between Australopithecus and the late Early Pleistocene hominins. The immature scapula ATD6-118 belonged to an immature individual with a development of the scapula equivalent to that of adolescents of recent human populations. The scapulae ATD6-118 and KNM-WT 15000 present a similar state of development. Although the scapula KNM-WT 15000 is clearly larger than ATD6-118, these two specimens share some characteristics such as their relative narrowness and the value of the axilloglenoid and spinoglenoid angles. The glenoid fossa of ATD6-116 show a lateral orientation, whereas in ATD6-118 the glenoid fossa is slightly cranially oriented, but still within the range of variation of modern humans. The glenoid index of both ATD6-116 and ATD6-118 is low in accordance to the values usually observed in other early hominins, thus showing the primitive condition for this feature. Both scapulae show a ventrally placed axillary sulcus. The presence of this primitive feature in ATD-116 confirms that the shape of the axillary border has a genetic basis and it is not related to physical activity.
Here we analyze the unpublished hominin dental remains recovered from the late Early Pleistocene Gran Dolina-TD6.2 level of the Sierra de Atapuerca (northern Spain), as well as provide a reassessment of the whole TD6.2 hominin dental sample. Comparative descriptions of the outer enamel surface (OES) and the enamel-dentine junction (EDJ) are provided. Overall, the data presented here support the taxonomic validity of Homo antecessor, since this species presents a unique mosaic of traits. Homo antecessor displays several primitive features for the genus Homo as well as some traits exclusively shared with Early and Middle Pleistocene Eurasian hominins. Some of these Eurasian traits were retained by the Middle Pleistocene hominins of Europe, and subsequently became the typical condition of the Neanderthal lineage. Although other skeletal parts present resemblances with Homo sapiens, TD6.2 teeth do not show any synapomorphy with modern humans. In addition, TD6.2 teeth can be well differentiated from those of Asian Homo erectus. The dental evidence is compatible with previous hypothesis about H. antecessor belonging to the basal population from which H. sapiens, Homo neanderthalensis, and Denisovans emerged. Future findings and additional research may help to elucidate the precise phylogenetic link among them.