Study questions the European origin of Neanderthals

Study questions the European origin of Neanderthals

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A team of Spanish scientists has compared hominin teeth found at the Cueva de Arago site in France and the Sima de los Huesos in Atapuerca.

The results indicate that the teeth have very different shapes and sizes, suggesting that the hypothesis of a linear evolution in a long process of "Neanderthalization" does not hold up in Europe. The origin of the Neanderthals may not be in Europe.

The Dental Anthropology group of the National Center for Research on Human Evolution (CENIEH), led by José Mª Bermúdez de Castro, has published a study in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews that systematically compares dental samples for the first time from of two of the most important sites of the Middle Pleistocene in Europe: the Cueva de Arago, in the south of France, and the Sima de los Huesos (Atapuerca), in the north of Spain.

The results show that the hypothesis of a linear evolution in a long process of "Neanderthalization" does not hold.

The comparative metric and morphological work shows that the teeth of both sites have a very different size and shape. Some characters reveal that they had a common origin, but most of the dental features suggest two different European pedigrees. The hominins of Arago have an archaic appearance, while those of the Sima de los Huesos have remarkable similarities with the Neanderthals.

Most of the human remains of the French site It has a similar chronology to that of the Sima de los Huesos: 430,000 years. To this must be added the geographical proximity, barely 800 kilometers separate both locations.

"If the hypothesis that proposes a local, linear and continuous evolution in Europe is correct, the fossils of the two deposits would have to be very similar," says Bermúdez de Castro.

Asian origin of Neanderthals

For decades, experts have suggested that near the beginning of the Middle Pleistocene, a period lasting 660,000 years, the European continent was colonized by a new human population that brought with it Acheulean technology and perhaps the dominance of fire.

Throughout that long period of time, there was a evolutionary process that culminated in the appearance of Neanderthals. But the latest findings in different parts of Europe have questioned this linear model.

As Bermúdez de Castro comments, perhaps not everything was so simple. “A couple of years ago, we already proposed that the doors of Europe could be opened several times, giving way to human groups that came from Southwest Asia and had a common origin. Our results only confirm that we have a new challenge ahead: rethinking the entire human evolution of the old continent. Perhaps the origin of the Neanderthals is not in Europe ”.

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