Research Article

Neandertal roots: Cranial and chronological evidence from Sima de los Huesos

Science  20 Jun 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6190, pp. 1358-1363
DOI: 10.1126/science.1253958

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Neandertal ancestors from Pleistocene Spain

The Sima de los Huesos site in Atapuerca, northern Spain, is a rich source of fossil hominin specimens. The site has now yielded further skull specimens that illuminate patterns of human evolution in Europe nearly half a million years ago. Arsuaga et al. studied 17 crania, including 7 that are new specimens and 6 that are more complete than before (see the Perspective by Hublin). This assemblage of specimens reveals the cranial, facial, and dental features of the Atapuerca hominins, which allows more precise evolutionary positioning of these Neandertal ancestors.

Science, this issue p. 1358; see also p. 1338

Abstract

Seventeen Middle Pleistocene crania from the Sima de los Huesos site (Atapuerca, Spain) are analyzed, including seven new specimens. This sample makes it possible to thoroughly characterize a Middle Pleistocene hominin paleodeme and to address hypotheses about the origin and evolution of the Neandertals. Using a variety of techniques, the hominin-bearing layer could be reassigned to a period around 430,000 years ago. The sample shows a consistent morphological pattern with derived Neandertal features present in the face and anterior vault, many of which are related to the masticatory apparatus. This suggests that facial modification was the first step in the evolution of the Neandertal lineage, pointing to a mosaic pattern of evolution, with different anatomical and functional modules evolving at different rates.

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