The Gran Dolina and Zhoukoudian sites are now closer

Spanish and Chinese researchers publish a paper comparing the tooth morphology in the species Homo antecessor from Atapuerca with that in populations of the species H. erectus in China.

Researchers from the Dental Anthropology Group at the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH) and the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing (China) have just published a paper in the Journal of Human Evolution, in which they conducted a comparison of the tooth morphology in the species Homo antecessor from Atapuerca (Burgos) and that in populations of the species H. erectus in China.

The results of this work, which summarizes over ten years of cooperation between the two institutions, CENIEH and IVPP, indicate that the two species share various dental traits, related to their common evolution in the great landmass of Eurasia. These findings also highlight some very clear differences between them, resulting from their distance in time (300,000 years) and geography (9000 kilometers).

Many of the remains which were compared are from the famous site of Zhoukoudian, on the outskirts of Beijing. This site, and Gran Dolina in the Sierra de Atapuerca, are both among the cultural assets declared World Heritage sites by UNESCO.

Waves of migration

Nevertheless, the evolutionary scenario proposed in this work is a long way from the one accepted by the majority of experts. According to that version, what went on in the distant lands of Asia had nothing to do with what happened in Europe since the initial colonization of the great Eurasian continent over two million years ago.

The CENIEH and IVPP researchers think that those who settled China during the Pleistocene did not arrive there in a single wave of migration, but that rather the scenario would have been very similar to that in Europe. That is, the Far East would have been populated by a diversity of human groups which arrived progressively in what is now China in different waves of migration as the climatic conditions so permitted.

One of those populations might have emigrated from the Near East approximately one million years ago, following separation from the parent population common with H. antecessor. This idea would explain the traits shared between the hominins known as H. erectus in China and H. antecessor.

“Our studies now allow tighter links to be drawn between these two singular places fundamental to understanding human evolution in Eurasia during the Pleistocene", says José María Bermúdez de Castro, Paleobiology Program Coordinator at the CENIEH and lead author of the new work.