Re: Human skull evolution

Glenn R. Morton (
Mon, 08 Jun 1998 18:45:24 -0500

At 07:54 AM 6/8/98 -0400, James Taggart wrote:
>Another thing about the fossil record which must be treated with care is
>the danger of exrapolating from a single example. Just as there are people
>alive today whose features might be mistaken for Neandertal (or some
>descendant thereof), is it possible that the skull from Gran Dolina is also
>an exception. With a half million years intervening til the next find,
>that guy might just have been a funny looking h. erectus?

First, I might point out that other finds in the fossil record are similar.
There is a 30 million year gap between the first and second tarsier (R. D.
Martin, "Bonanza at Shanghuang," Nature, 368, April 14, 1994, p. 586.)

A 100 million year gap between the first and second caecillian

A 60 million year gap between the first and second African turtle (Eugene
S. Gaffney and James W. Kitching, "The Most Ancient African Turtle,"
Nature, 369, May 5, 1994, p. 55)

And here is the data on birds.
Archaeopteryx 147 million years ago.
Sinornis santensis 139 million years ago.
Las Hoyas bird 132 million years ago.
Ambiortus dementjevi 125 million years ago.
~ Paul C. Sereno and Rao Chenggang, "Early Evolution of Avian Flight and
Perching: New Evidence from the Lower Cretaceous of China," Science, Feb.
14, 1992, p. 845

If we apply your criterion to birds, then none of the subsequent birds
found are related to Archaeopteryx.

As to the Gran Dolina skull, it is not alone. There are 100 bones from 5
to 6 individuals having been recovered. The one which is discussed with
the modern face is the more complete, but it is not a single piece of
A recent article in Science relates:

"Human fossil remains recovered from the TD6 level (Aurora stratum) of the
lower Pleistocene cave site of Gran Dolina, Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain,
exhibit a unique combination of cranial, mandibular, and dental traits and
are suggested as a new species of Homo--H. antecessor sp. nov. The fully
modern midfacial morphology of the fossils antedates other evidence of this
feature by about 650,000 years. The midfacial and subnasal morphology of
modern humans may be a retention of a juvenile pattern that was not yet
present in H. ergaster. Homo antecessor may represent the last common
ancestor for Neandertals and modern humans. "

J. M. Bermúdez de Castro et al,

Volume 276, Number 5317 Issue of 30 May 1997, pp. 1392 - 1395
©1997 by The American Association for the Advancement of Science.

By the way, there is evidence of the defleshing of bodies at Gran Dolina.
In moder humans this is only associated with burial or other rituals. (see
Donald Johanson and Blake Edgar, From Lucy to Language, (New York: Simon
and Schuster, 1997), p. 93)

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