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Altamura Man is the 400,000-year-old calcified remains of hominid species believed to be Homo heidelbergensis. Altamura Man was discovered in a limestone cave, called grotta di Lamalunga, near the city of Altamura, Italy.
The discovery happened in a karst borehole, composed of a complex system of caves of Lamalunga, next to an elongated valley secluded by numerous hills, typical of the Altamura Murgia in Apulia. During the exploring phase some components of the CARS Centro Altamurano Ricerche Speleologiche (Altamuran Centre for Speleologic Research) found the deposit of which the find was the main feature. On the side facing the valley of one of these hills there is the access that leads to the cave about 8 meters in depth. Through vertical shafts towards the surface that can be open or sealed for long or short periods, all this type caves have the ability to collect inside materials transported by the surface runoff of rainwater. This explains the presence of numerous remains, some of which quite voluminous, of ancient fauna too.
The fossil skeleton
The team - led by Prof. Vittorio Pesce Delfino of the University of Bari - proposed soon after the discovery the first philatelic collocation and the first estimate of the find, based only on morphologic basis. This would have matched a type of pre-Neanderthalian (according to a Linnaean species definition) preceding the most ancient types of classic Neanderthal and subsequently to the phases of Homo erectus, subsequently the estimation of the dating involved an interval between 400,000 and 100,000 years ago, with most likely values around 150-250,000 years ago.
The reference to an archaic version of Homo neanderthalensis also implies the find must show antedating morphological features and so directly recalling typical features of Homo neanderthalensis. Following studies, carried out keeping the find on the discovery site, have verified this aspect of typical Neanderthalians features (morphology of eye-sockets and upper orbit osseous thickening, lack of canine fossa and presence of a clear edge on the maxilla, thickening of the occipital bone, feature of the mastoid process, existence of a retromolar space and profile of the upper margin of the ascending mandible ramus).
Some characteristics match features typical of Homo sapiens, among which in particular the convexity of the occipital bone scale. The interest in the paleoanthropologic find "Man of Altamura" lies in numerous factors like the naturalistic majesty of the whole complex shown by the bones in the karstic setting that encased them, setting them together and making them absolutely fix, the completeness of the skeleton and the morphological features quoted.
The entire pre-existent knowledge of European Neanderthal came from numerous but fragmented finds; as an example a skullcap in Germany, skull fragments more or less voluminous but never complete in Greece, Italy, Spain and France, forcing anthropologists in a not easy effort to identify characteristics and compatibilities of missing pieces. This doesn’t happen in Altamura where all the various bone segments, all perfectly preserved, allow to shift the morphological compatibility exam from a problem of limited consistency of other finds to a more challenging problem of evolutionistic and morph-functional interpretation.
In spite this ideal situation the Lamalunga find presents exceptional methodology study problems and fruitions due to removal impossibility with procedures that can guarantee the recovery without damage. For this has been carried out the “Sarastro” project, setting the access to the discovery cave with the “field museum” approach according to which a technological infrastructure allows either the fruition and the scientific study in remote mode, leaving the find totally undisturbed and protected in his site.
Recently researchers of University of Bari have carried out laser scans of the find, still preserved in Lamalunga cave, obtaining numerical maps that allow to carry out dimensional and morphological evaluations using mathematical models and procedures capable of obtaining the reproduction of physical copies of the find.
At the same time three-dimensional videos have been taken. Results have been showed at Bonn symposium "150 years of Neanderthal discoveries – Early Europeans Continuity and Discontinuity" where has sparked lot of interest with specific requests of further development on the topic from UNESCO, the Wenner Gren Foundation of New York, from the American Museum of Natural History of New York and from The Abdus Salam – International Centre for Theoretical Physics of Trieste.