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J Hum Evol. 2011 Jul;61(1):12-25. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2011.03.005. Epub 2011 Apr 30.

Early Pleistocene human mandible from Sima del Elefante (TE) cave site in Sierra de Atapuerca (Spain): a comparative morphological study.

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Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana, Avenida Sierra de Atapuerca, s/n, 09001 Burgos, Spain.


We present a detailed morphological comparative study of the hominin mandible ATE9-1 recovered in 2007 from the Sima del Elefante cave site in Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos, northern Spain. Paleomagnetic analyses, biostratigraphical studies, and quantitative data obtained through nuclide cosmogenic methods, place this specimen in the Early Pleistocene (1.2-1.3 Ma). This finding, together with archaeological evidence from different European sites, suggests that Western Europe was colonised shortly after the first hominin expansion out of Africa around the Olduvai subchron. Our analysis of the ATE9-1 mandible includes a geometric morphometric analysis of the lower second premolar (LP(4)), a combined and detailed external and internal assessment of ATE9-1 roots through CT and microCT techniques, as well as a comparative study of mandibular and other dental features. This analysis reveals some primitive Homo traits on the external aspect of the symphysis and the dentition shared with early African Homo and the Dmanisi hominins. In contrast, other mandibular traits on the internal aspect of the symphysis are derived with regard to African early Homo, indicating unexpectedly large departures from patterns observed in Africa. Reaching the most occidental part of the Eurasian continent implies that the first African emigrants had to cross narrow corridors and to overcome geographic barriers favouring genetic drift, long isolation periods, and adaptation to new climatic and seasonal conditions. Given these conditions and that we are dealing with a long time period, it is possible that one or more speciation events could have occurred in this extreme part of Eurasia during the Early Pleistocene, originating in the lineages represented by the Sima del Elefante-TE9 hominins and possibly by the Gran Dolina-TD6 hominins. In the absence of any additional evidence, we prefer not include the specimen ATE9-1 in any named taxon and refer to it as Homo sp.

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