Re: Human skull evolution

Glenn R. Morton (
Sat, 06 Jun 1998 20:18:04 -0500

I have been looking for this for the past 3 or 4 days and finally just
found it. There was an accessible article about the face of the Atapuercans
(who were from Spain) in Discover Magazine last December. It told of the
modern face found in a skull 800,000 years ago. Kunzig wrote:

"For although it offers an incomparable view of a deep past--the bones in
it belong to the ancestors of Neanderthals--lately the pit has been
upstaged by a second site a few hundred years away. In a sediment-filled
cave called Gran Dolina, a cave you dig rather than crawl into, Carbonell
and his colleagues have found bones that are three times older than those
in the Sima-- at 800,000 years old they are the oldest human remains in
Europe. Their anatomy has turned out to be peculiar. The teeth especially
the premolars, resemble much older teeth from Africa. The lowe jaw is like
that of the Sima bepole and their Neanderthal descendants. But the
face--the face that has emerged from the clay at Gran Dolina is the most
surprising thing of all. 'It is so surprising, we must rethink human
evolution to fit that face,' says Arsuaga. The Gran Dolina face is 800,000
years old and yet distinctively ours. It is almost that of a modern
human." ~ Robert Kunzig, "Atapuerca: The Face of an Ancestral Child,"
Discovery, December, 1997,pp 88-101, p. 90

"One of them was a premolar, the type of tooth that is situated between
the molars at the back and the canines at the frount corners of the mouth.
Standing on the scaffolding next to the excavation, turning this premolar
over in his hand, Bermudez could see right away that it had a complex root,
with three canals for the pulp--the nerves and blood that keep a tooth
alive. Pulp canals in one tooth might seem a small feature to focus on at
a time like this, and a ridiculously small one on which to build a grand
statement about human evolution. But there it is: every premolar ever
found before in Europe, from those associated with the Mauer mandible to
those attached to modern humans, had a single root, not three. The Gran
Dolina premolar looked old and positively African: Homo erectus, Bermudez
thought." ~ Robert Kunzig, "Atapuerca: The Face of an Ancestral Child,"
Discovery, December, 1997,pp 88-101, p. 93

And finally,

"Until the Gran Dolina discovery, the oldest modern face was on a
120,000-year-old skull from Israel. the Gran Dolina face had all the right
features, and it was 800,000 years old. It was far older than any
heidelbergensis fossil, but it had a far more modern face. How coult it
be understood as 'primitive' heidelbergensis? This hominid had the face of
a sapiens, a mandible approaching heidelbergensis, and premolars like
ergaster. What to call such an hombre? 'If you say it's not
heidelbergensis, it has to be a new species,' says Arsuaga. 'And if you
don't name it someone else will.' Being of an age, 40-plus, to have had
Latin forced on them in school, the Spanish researchers turned to their
Latin dictionaries. Homo antecessor seemd to capture the essence of the
first intrepid African who had scouted out Europe." ~ Robert Kunzig,
"Atapuerca: The Face of an Ancestral Child," Discovery, December, 1997,pp
88-101, p. 98

One of the things that the modern face illustrates is the nature of the
fossil record. The earliest man with a modern human face is now about a
million years old. Then there is a gap of 250-300,000 years before the
second example if found. After that is another gap of about 600,000 years
before the third example. Such gaps are found in the fossil record for the
earliest examples of any item you wish to name, from wine to farming to
sewing needles to pottery to faces to fossil animals. While the earliest
example is often quoted as the oldest, with any item, it is highly unlikely
that the first example was actually fossilized or preserved.

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