The dicovery of fossils and stone tools at the Gran Dolina site in the Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain have led to the discovery of a whole new species of hominid. Homo antecessor is that new species. An ancestor to the Neanderthals, Homo antecessor lived in ancient Europe at least 780,000 years ago. It was previously thought that no humans or Neanderthals had reached Europe until 500,000 years ago. But the remains of Homo antecessor were clearly much older.

The Sierra de Atapuerca area of Spain has long been rich in terms of fossils. The area features many limestone caverns, (which were a common living area for Pleistocene era humans). The first human remains were discovered in the area in 1976. Systematic excavation was begun in 1984. To date over 1600 pieces of human remains have been excavated, (at least 32 unique individuals are represented, including one complete skull). They are just now beginning to excavate the majority of the sites in the area. So many more fossils are sure to surface.

These fossils were found to predate the last major reversal in the geomagnetic field direction, at 780,000 years ago, (using both electron spin resonance and Uranium series tests). These fossils are currently thought to be between 780,000 to 857,000 years old.

The Homo antecessor fossils are unique in their combination of cranial, mandibular, and dental traits. Some scientists believe that Homo antecessor was the last common ancestor for the Neanderthals and modern humans, (I disagree, in my opinion there is not enough evidence to make this link. Everyone is in such a rush to fill in "missing links", before proper evidence is established).


Homo antecessor was a hominid species that lived approximately 800,000 years ago in northern Africa and southern Europe. It was discovered in Spain's central Atapuerca mountains by José Bermúdez de Castro and Antonio Rosas during an excavation which took place between 1994 and 1996. Fossil evidence for this species include the remains of an adolescent male and pieces from five other individuals.

Cranial Capacity: 1000 cc or above
Height: Up to 1.8 m
Habitat: Forest
Tool usage: Yes

Antecessor had a mix of primitive and modern traits. The brow ridge was pronounced and double-arched like Neanderthals and Homo erectus. The lower mandible was bulky like that of Neanderthals but the mid-facial area was basically modern with depressions on either side of the nose (canine fossa) and cheekbones resembling those of Homo sapiens. Post-cranial bone structure closely resembled that of modern man.

The teeth of Antecessor were relatively large (except for the post-canines, which fall within the range of H. Habilis), and there were multiple roots for premolars. The dental arcade was parabolic. These traits most likely indicate a hunter-gatherer-type diet (with both meat and vegetation included).

Possible Link
Antecessor means "explorer" or "one who goes first" and, true to the name, this species appears to partially fill the gap between Homo fossils found 1.8 million years ago in Africa and 500,000 years ago in Europe. The group may represent part of a failed early attempt to colonize, or they may have been successful and given rise to a later group of hominids. The question is which one? Some researchers speculate that Homo Antecessor is the last common ancestor of both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens (a position formerly attributed to Homo heidelbergensis). Those that remained in Africa would have been the ancestors of H. Sapiens, and those that colonized Europe would have given rise to Neanderthals. This is based on the mix of modern and primitive traits which is only seen in Antecessor.

However, many scientists do not agree with naming Antecessor an entirely new species, arguing that the fossils found in Spain are examples of Homo heidelbergensis. This is position is supported by the fact that the characteristics which supposedly define Antecessor as a species are largely based on the single adolescent specimen. The modern look of the specimen’s skull might be due to immature development. Had the specimen reached adulthood, the skull might have developed Neanderthal attributes.

The fossils found had cut marks present that could not be attributed to carnivore tooth marks. Animal bones processed by hominids from the area show the same markings, implying that the Antecessor remains had also been processed by hominids. If this is the case, the fossils may be the earliest documented case of cannibalism.


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