A new study of Homo antecessor teeth confirms its proximity to Neanderthals and modern humans

The study reveals differences with Asian Homo erectus and reinforces the taxonomic validity of the species found in Gran Dolina sites in Atapuerca (Burgos, Spain)

The Journal of Human Evolution publishes this week a new study about Homo antecessor dentition, including the analysis of 14 unpublished teeth. Although this journal included a comparative study of the hominin teeth recovered from the Gran Dolina site (Atapuerca, Burgos) during the 1994 and 1995 seasons, the collection increased significantly during the last decade and an updated analysis was necessary.

The publication is led by María Martinón-Torres and José María Bermúdez de Castro and includes several scientists from the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEN) and the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Palaeoanthropology of The Academy of Sciences of Beijing.

The study comprises an exhaustive comparative analysis of the enamel and the dentine of the teeth by means of classic methods as well as microCT. “Apart from the newly discovered teeth, thanks to the application of the microCT we have been able of virtually extracting teeth that were hidden inside their maxilla and thus, were not accessible twenty years ago”, says María Martinón-Torres, researcher and Director of CENIEH.

The new study reveals a high number of primitive features shared with the earliest members of the genus Homo, as well as some derived features in common with later populations such as Sima de los Huesos hominins and Neanderthals.

In addition, the study emphasizes the differences between Homo antecessor and Asian Homo erectus teeth, a fact that “reinforces the taxonomic validity of Homo antecessor”, confirms José María Bermúdez de Castro, Coordinator of the Palaeobiology Program of CENIEH.

The species, named in 1997 and dated around 860,000 years was at that time proposed as the best candidate to represent the last common ancestor of modern humans and Neanderthals. The new study is compatible with previous hypothesis and suggests that Homo antecessor belonged to the basal population from which H. sapiens, H. neanderthalensis and Denisovans emerged.