Katerina Harvati, Jean-Jacque Hublin, Philipp Gunz
Journal of Human Evolution
The classification and phylogenetic relationships of the middle Pleistocene human fossil record remains one of the most intractable problems in paleoanthropology. Several authors have noted broad resemblances between European and African fossils from this period, suggesting a single taxon ancestral to both modern humans and Neanderthals. Others point out 'incipient' Neanderthal features in the morphology of the European sample and have argued for their inclusion in the Neanderthal lineage exclusively, following a model of accretionary evolution of Neanderthals. We approach these questions using geometric morphometric methods which allow the intuitive visualization and quantification of features previously described qualitatively. We apply these techniques to evaluate proposed cranio-facial 'incipient' facial, vault, and basicranial traits in a middle-late Pleistocene European hominin sample when compared to a sample of the same time depth from Africa. Some of the features examined followed the predictions of the accretion model and relate the middle Pleistocene European material to the later Neanderthals. However, although our analysis showed a clear separation between Neanderthals and early/recent modern humans and morphological proximity between European specimens from OIS 7 to 3, it also shows that the European hominins from the first half of the middle Pleistocene still shared most of their cranio-facial architecture with their African contemporaries.