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: 3.23). 04/2011; 6(4):e18821. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0018821
Source: PubMed


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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