An interesting case of hybrid morphology (and genome): the Oase-1 jaw

In 2002 the robust jaw of an adult male human, Oase-1, was found in Peștera cu Oase (‘the cave with bones’) in southwestern Romania. It was dated to 38-42 ka, which falls among the oldest European early Upper Paleolithic human remains, together with Grotta del Cavallo (43-45 ka), Kent’s Cavern 4 in UK (41-44 ka), Mladeč in Czech Republic (34 ka), Vogelherd in Germany (32-33 ka)… and overlaps the late surviving neandertals.

The morphology of the Oase-1 mandible presents a very interesting hybrid combination of derived and archaic traits:

Within the range of early modern humans in the Late Pleistocene:

  • A key feature of this fossil is the tuber symphyseos, a prominent triangular bulge occupying the inferior half of the anterior symphysis. This is a derived early modern human feature, which is clearly present in Oase-1.
  • Apart from its overall proportions, other traits reinforcing its classification as modern human are: more mesial mental foramen, narrow lateral corpus, retromolar space absence, symmetrical mandibular notch and medially placed condyle.
Oase-1 jaw

Oase-1 jaw. Photo credit: Roberto Sáez

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Aroeira 3: the westernmost Middle Pleistocene cranium of Europe

Why is it important?

  • Firmly dated to 390–436 ka, this new hominin fossil found in Portugal is the westernmost Middle Pleistocene cranium of Europe.
  • It is one of the earliest fossils associated with Acheulean tools in Western Europe.
  • Together with the tools, there is also a direct association with a large amount of faunal remains: mainly cervids and equids, also some rhinos and bears, a large bovid, a caprid and a tortoise.
  • The presence of burnt bones suggests a controlled use of fire.
Aroeira 3 cranium

Aroeira 3 cranium. Credit: Daura et al, New Middle Pleistocene hominin cranium from Gruta da Aroeira (Portugal)

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A moment of silence for the death of Homo heidelbergensis

“Every time I see the name ‘Homo heidelbergensis’ I feel a little queasy”, John Hawks

Homo heidelbergensis was defined in 1908 as a new species for a mandible that was found one year before, by the Neckar river in Mauer, near Heidelberg in Germany. This mandible, dated to 600 Ka, was the oldest hominin fossil in Europe for the following 90 years.

In the meantime, the name Homo heidelbergensis remained with no further assignment to any other fossil for seven decades, until it was resurrected to try to classify a group of 20+ specimens of the Middle Pleistocene from dispersed sites in Europe (Arago in France, Petralona in Greece…), Africa (Kabwe in Zambia, Bodo in Ethiopia…) and Asia (Yunxian and Dali in China…). They all had in common some derived features from Homo erectus, basically a larger brain which reflects in complex tools (e.g. the wooden spear fron Schöningen, Germany).

“In reality this species should have stayed dead instead of being resurrected in the 1980s”, Juan Luis Arsuaga

They were ‘archaic Homo sapiens’, fossils dated to between 600 Ka and 200 Ka just before the Homo sapiens appeared in Africa. It was made necessary to assign them to a species which demonstrated an evolutionary path between erectus and modern humans, being also ancestor of neandertals. Homo heidelbergensis was the choosen name, although there was not any complete description of this species.

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The first Europeans: summary of key sites and evidences in Western Turkey

The dispersion of Homo from Africa into Eurasia and the relationship between the colonization of East Asia (Indonesia, China) and Western Europe, is still poorly understood because of the small number of fossils and the geographically scattered sites with evidences. Therefore, the research on the number of waves and the species migrating is really difficult. The discussion is even richer, if considering that some early human populations in Europe did not come from Africa only, but they could also come from Southwest Asia.

In summary, some key sites to consider are:  Sigue leyendo

The first Europeans: evidences in Southern Spain

We have no evidence of human presence in Europe before 1.5 million years ago. The study of the European colonization is particularly exciting in the human evolution field.

1.5 MYA the populations of Homo erectus (Homo ergaster) were growing and expanding in Africa. They were giving rise to a new species which was the first humans migrating outside Africa into Europe via the Levant Corridor and went over the Danube-Rhine valleys. Subsequent migrations did the same path in search of areas with better climate and resources.

At this moment of the Middle Pleistocene, the first human populations in Europe were a dispersed grid throughout a vast area. They were a genetic mosaic. Some of them evolved independently in response to local adaptations to environmental changes. Some of them interbred with other populations as they were incoming in further migrations.

The first Europeans

The first Europeans. Image: Roberto Sáez

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