Temporal range: Early Pleistocene, 1.2–0.8Ma
Bermudez de Castro et al., 1997
Homo antecessor is an extinct human species (or subspecies) dating from 1.2 million to 800,000 years ago, that was discovered by Eudald Carbonell, Juan Luis Arsuaga and J. M. Bermúdez de Castro. H. antecessor is one of the earliest known human varieties in Europe.
Various archaeologists and anthropologists have debated how H. antecessor related to other Homo species in Europe, with suggestions that it was an evolutionary link between H. ergaster and H. heidelbergensis, although Richard Klein believes that it was instead a separate species that evolved from H. ergaster. Others believe that H. antecessor is the same species as H. heidelbergensis, who inhabited Europe from 600,000 to 250,000 years ago in the Pleistocene.
The best-preserved fossil is a maxilla that belonged to a 10-year-old individual found in Spain. Based on palaeomagnetic measurements, it is thought to be older than 780–857 ka. The average brain was 1,000 cm³ in volume. In 1994 and 1995, 80 fossils of six individuals that may have belonged to the species were found in Atapuerca, Spain. At the site were numerous examples of cuts where the flesh had been flensed from the bones, which indicates that H. antecessor may have practiced cannibalism.
H. antecessor was about 1.6-1.8 m (5½-6 feet) tall, and males weighed roughly 90 kg (200 pounds). Their brain sizes were roughly 1,000–1,150 cm³, smaller than the 1,350 cm³ average of modern humans. Due to fossil scarcity, very little more is known about the physiology of H. antecessor, yet it was likely to have been more robust than H. heidelbergensis.
According to Juan Luis Arsuaga, one of the co-directors of the excavation in Burgos, H. antecessor might have been right-handed, a trait that makes the species different from the other apes. This hypothesis is based on tomography techniques. Arsuaga also claims that the frequency range of audition is similar to H. sapiens, which makes him believe that H. antecessor used a symbolic language and was able to reason. Arsuaga's team is currently pursuing a DNA map of H. antecessor after elucidating that of a bear that lived in northern Spain some 500,000 years ago.
Based on teeth eruption pattern, the researchers think that H. antecessor had the same development stages as H. sapiens, though probably at a faster pace. Other features acquired by the species are a protruding occipital bun, a low forehead and a lack of a strong chin. Some of the remains are almost indistinguishable from the fossil attributable to the 1.5 million year old Turkana Boy, belonging to H. ergaster.
The only known fossils of H. antecessor are from two sites in the Sierra de Atapuerca region of northern Spain (Gran Dolina and Sima del Elefante).
Archaeologist Eudald Carbonell i Roura of the Universidad Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain and palaeoanthropologist Juan Luis Arsuaga Ferreras of the Complutense University of Madrid discovered Homo antecessor remains at the Gran Dolina site in the Sierra de Atapuerca, east of Burgos. The H. antecessor remains have been found in level 6 (TF6) of the Gran Dolina site.
Over 80 bone fragments from six individuals were uncovered in 1994 and 1995. The site had also included roughly 200 stone tools and about 300 animal bones. Stone tools including a stone carved knife were found along with the ancient hominin remains. All these remains were dated at least 900,000 years old. The best-preserved remains are a maxilla (upper jawbone) and a frontal bone of an individual who died at the age of 10–11.
Sima del Elefante
On June 29, 2007, Spanish researchers working at the Sima del Elefante site in the Atapuerca Mountains (Spain) announced that they had recovered a molar dated to 1.1–1.2 million years ago. The molar was described as "well worn" and from an individual between 20 and 25 years of age. Additional findings announced on 27 March 2008 included the discovery of a mandible fragment, stone flakes, and evidence of animal bone processing.
In 2005 flint tools and teeth from the water vole Mimomys savini, a key dating species, were found in the cliffs at Pakefield near Lowestoft in Suffolk. This suggests that hominins can be dated in England to 700,000 years ago, potentially a cross between Homo antecessor and Homo heidelbergensis.
In 2010 stone tool finds were reported in Happisburgh, Norfolk, England, believed to have been used by H. antecessor, suggesting that the early hominin species also lived in England about 950,000 years ago – the earliest known population of the genus Homo in Northern Europe.
Twenty tools dating back to the Paleolithic (pebble culture, 1.6 million years ago) were found in 2008.
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