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.

Inner morphological and metric characterization of the molar remains from the Montmaurin-La Niche mandible: The Neanderthal signal

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.