The Stem Species of Our Species: A Place for the Archaic Human Cranium from Ceprano, Italy

State University of New York College at Oneonta, United States of America
PLoS ONE (Impact Factor: 3.53). 04/2011; 6(4):e18821. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0018821
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT One of the present challenges in the study of human evolution is to recognize the hominin taxon that was ancestral to Homo sapiens. Some researchers regard H. heidelbergensis as the stem species involved in the evolutionary divergence leading to the emergence of H. sapiens in Africa, and to the evolution of the Neandertals in Europe. Nevertheless, the diagnosis and hypodigm of H. heidelbergensis still remain to be clarified. Here we evaluate the morphology of the incomplete cranium (calvarium) known as Ceprano whose age has been recently revised to the mid of the Middle Pleistocene, so as to test whether this specimen may be included in H. heidelbergensis. The analyses were performed according to a phenetic routine including geometric morphometrics and the evaluation of diagnostic discrete traits. The results strongly support the uniqueness of H. heidelbergensis on a wide geographical horizon, including both Eurasia and Africa. In this framework, the Ceprano calvarium--with its peculiar combination of archaic and derived traits--may represent, better than other penecontemporaneous specimens, an appropriate ancestral stock of this species, preceding the appearance of regional autapomorphic features.

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Article: The Stem Species of Our Species: A Place for the Archaic Human Cranium from Ceprano, Italy

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    • "The large intra-group variability of this taxon on the one hand, and a lack of patent geographical or chronological trends on the other, leaves most of the phylogenetic problems still open (e.g., Brauer, 1994; Wood, 1994; Schwartz, 2004; Gilbert and Asfaw, 2008). African and Asian specimens show some metric and nonmetric differences in their cranial morphology (Mounier et al., 2011). Nonetheless, such variation can be easily interpreted as the results of a single but widely dispersed polytypic species, formed by regional groups which underwent isolation in both time and space (Rightmire, 1986, 1998; Ant on, 2002, 2003; Baab, 2008). "
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    ABSTRACT: The taxonomic debate on the phylogenetic coherence of Homo erectus as a widespread intercontinental species is constantly put forward, without major agreements. Differences between the African and Asian fossil record as well as differences between the Chinese and Indonesian groups (or even within these two regions) have frequently been used to propose splitting taxonomical alternatives. In this paper, we analyze the endocranial variation of African and Asian specimens belonging to the hypodigm of H. erectus sensu lato, to assess whether or not these groups can be characterized in terms of traditional endocranial metrics. According to the basic endocast proportions, the three geographic groups largely overlap in their phenotypic distribution and morphological patterns. The morphological affinity or differences among the specimens are largely based on brain size. As already evidenced by using other cranial features, traditional paleoneurological metrics cannot distinguish possible independent groups or trends within the Afro-Asiatic H. erectus hypodigm. Endocranial features and variability are discussed as to provide a general perspective on the paleoneurological traits of this taxon.
    Quaternary International 11/2014; 368. DOI:10.1016/j.quaint.2014.10.007 · 2.13 Impact Factor
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    • "The precise attribution of this calvarium to a Homo species remains debated (Mounier et al., 2011). "
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    ABSTRACT: The palaeobotanical record of early Palaeolithic sites from Western Europe indicates that hominins settled in different kinds of environments. During the "mid-Pleistocene transition (MPT)", from about 1 to 0.6 Ma, the transition from 41- to 100-ka dominant climatic oscillations, occurring within a long-term cooling trend, was associated with an aridity crisis which strongly modified the ecosystems. Starting from the MPT the more favourable climate of central and southern Italy provided propitious environmental conditions for long-term human occupations even during the glacial times. In fact, the human strategy of territory occupation was certainly driven by the availabilities of resources. Prehistoric sites such as Notarchirico (ca. 680-600 ka), La Pineta (ca. 600-620 ka), Guado San Nicola (ca. 380-350 ka) or Ceprano (ca. 345-355 ka) testify to a preferential occupation of the central and southern Apennines valleys during interglacial phases, while later interglacial occupations were oriented towards the coastal plains, as attested by the numerous settlements of the Roma Basin (ca. 300 ka). Faunal remains indicate that human subsistence behaviours benefited from a diversity of exploitable ecosystems, from semi-open to closed environments. In central and southern Italy, several palynological records have already illustrated the regional- and local-scale vegetation dynamic trends. During the Middle Pleistocene climate cycles, mixed mesophytic forests developed during the interglacial periods and withdrew in response to increasing aridity during the glacial episodes. New pollen data from the Boiano Basin (Molise, Italy) attest to the evolution of vegetation and climate between MIS 13 and 9 (ca. 500 to 300 ka). In this basin the persistence of high edaphic humidity, even during the glacial phases, could have favoured the establishment of a refuge area for the arboreal flora and provided subsistence resources for the animal and hominin communities during the Middle Pleistocene. This could have constrained human groups to migrate into such a propitious area. Regarding the local climate evolution during the glacial episodes, the supposed displacement from these sites could be linked to the environmental dynamics solely due to the aridity increase, rather than directly to the global climate changes.
    Climate of the Past 01/2013; 9(2):687-697. DOI:10.5194/cp-9-687-2013 · 3.56 Impact Factor
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    • "The precise attribution of this calvarium to a Homo species remains debated (Mounier et al., 2011). "
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    ABSTRACT: Palaeobotanical investigations undertaken on early prehistoric sites of Western Europe, as Pont-de-Lavaud (France, ca 1.2 - 1 Ma) and Ca' Belvedere di Monte Poggiolo (Italy, ca 1.2 - 0.8 Ma), indicate that hominins have settled in different types of environments. During the "Mid-Pleistocene Transition (MPT)", at about 1 to 0.6 Ma, the transition from 41-ka to 100-ka dominant climatic oscillations occurring within a long-term cooling trend is associated with an aridity crisis and strongly modified the structure of environments. Since the MPT, the specific climate and environment evolution of the southern Italy provided propitious conditions for a long-term human occupation even during glacial times and the density of prehistoric sites could probably be explained by the amount of sustainable environments. The human strategy of occupation of a territory probably was motivated by availabilities of resources for subsistence in the local ecosystems. Sites such as La Pineta (ca 600 ka), Notarchirico (ca 600 ka), San Nicola di Monteroduni (ca 400 ka) or Ceprano (ca 350 ka) testify to the preferential occupation of the valleys of the central and southern Apennines during this period. In this area, the Boiano basin (Molise, Italy) recorded a lacustrine and fluvio-palustrine sedimentation, with basal deposits older than 440 ka deduced from tephrochronology. Pollen analyse of the Boiano sequence aims to describe the evolution of vegetation and climates between OIS 13 and 9, at regional and micro-regional scales. The characteristics of the Boiano basin are enlightened within the progressive reduction of the deciduous forest diversity along the Middle Pleistocene. The main palaeoecological information consists of an important persistence of edaphic humidity during the glacial phases. The peculiar conditions recorded in the region could have constituted a refuge for arboreal flora during the Middle Pleistocene and provided subsistence resources to the animal and human communities.
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