Homo antecessor is an extinct human species (or subspecies) dating
from 1.2 million to 800,000 years ago, that was discovered by Eudald
Juan Luis Arsuaga
Juan Luis Arsuaga and J. M. Bermúdez de Castro. "The
unique mix of modern and primitive traits led the researchers to deem
the fossils a new species, H. antecessor, in 1997". Regarding its
great age the species must be related to Out of Africa I, the first
series of hominin expansions into Eurasia, making it one of the
earliest-known human species in Europe.
The genus name
Homo is the Latin word for "human" whereas the species
name antecessor is a Latin word meaning "explorer", "pioneer" or
"early settler", assigned to emphasize the belief that these people
belonged to the earliest known wave of migration to the European
Various archaeologists and anthropologists have debated how H.
antecessor relates to other
Homo species in Europe, with suggestions
that it was an evolutionary link between H. ergaster and H.
heidelbergensis. Some anthropologists suggest H. antecessor may be the
last common ancestor of modern humans and Neanderthals (via Homo
heidelbergensis) because H. antecessor has a combination of primitive
traits typical of earlier
Homo and unique features seen in neither
Homo sapiens. Author Richard Klein argues that it was
a separate species evolved from H. ergaster.
Some scientists consider H. antecessor to be the same species as H.
heidelbergensis, who inhabited
Europe from 600,000 to 250,000 years
ago in the Pleistocene. As a complete skull has yet to be
unearthed, with only fourteen fragments and lower jaw bones known,
these scholars point out that "most of the known H. antecessor
specimens represent children"; as "most of the features tying H.
antecessor to modern people were found in juveniles, whose bodies and
physical features change as they grow up and go through puberty.
It’s possible that H. antecessor adults didn't really look much like
H. sapiens at all".
The best-preserved fossil is a maxilla that belonged to a ten-year-old
individual found in Spain. Based on palaeomagnetic measurements, it is
thought to be older than 857–780 ka. In 1994 and 1995, 80 fossils
of six individuals who may have belonged to the species were found in
Atapuerca, Spain. At the site were numerous examples of cuts where the
flesh had been flensed from the bones, which indicates that H.
antecessor may have practiced cannibalism.
Footprints presumed to be from H. antecessor dating to more than
800,000 years ago have been found at Happisburgh on the coast of
1 Interpretation and phylogeny
3 Fossil sites
3.1 Gran Dolina
3.2 Sima del Elefante
3.3 Suffolk, England
3.4 Norfolk, England
3.5 Lézignan-la-Cèbe, France
4 See also
6 External links
Interpretation and phylogeny
view • discuss • edit
Earliest stone tools
Earliest exit from Africa
Earliest fire use
Earliest in Europe
Axis scale: million years
Also see: Life timeline and Nature timeline
H. antecessor's discoverers—including José Bermúdez de Castro of
Spain’s National Museum of Natural Sciences,
Juan Luis Arsuaga
Juan Luis Arsuaga of
the Universidad Complutense in
Eudald Carbonell of the
University of Tarragona—suggest H. antecessor may have evolved from
a population of H. erectus living in Africa more than 1.5 million
years ago and then migrated to Europe, further arguing that H.
antecessor gave rise to H. heidelbergensis, which then gave rise to
Neanderthals, without contradicting the previous phylogenetic
A 2013 DNA analysis from a 400,000-year-old femur from Spain's Sima de
los Huesos in the Atapuerca Mountains—the oldest hominin sequence
yet published—did not help to overcome contradictions. Results "left
researchers baffled" as the sequence "suggests [a closer] link to
[the] mystery population" of the Denisovans instead of the
Neanderthals as was anticipated. In 2016, nuclear DNA analysis
results determined the Sima hominins to be Neanderthals and not
Denisova hominins, and that the divergence between Neanderthals and
Denisovans predates 430,000 years.
According to the Science X Network the excavation team at the cave
Gran Dolina has succeeded to provide conclusive dating of the
strata where the
Homo antecessor fossils were found. A 2014
publication in the
Journal of Archaeological Science states that the
Gran Dolina is 900,000 years old.
A review of the Spanish National Research Centre for
(CENIEH) in 2015, titled "
Homo antecessor: The state of the art
eighteen years later" only yields vague statements on the species'
phylogenetic position: "... a speciation event could have occurred in
Africa/Western Eurasia, originating a new
Homo clade", and further:
Homo antecessor ... could be a side branch of this clade placed at
the westernmost region of the Eurasian continent".
H. antecessor was about 1.6–1.8 m (5½–6 feet) tall, and males
weighed roughly 90 kg (200 pounds). Their brain sizes were
roughly 1,000 to 1,150 cm³, smaller than the 1,350 cm³
average of modern humans. Due to fossil scarcity, very little more is
known about the physiology of H. antecessor, yet it was likely to have
been more robust than H. heidelbergensis.
According to Juan Luis Arsuaga, one of the co-directors of the
excavation in Burgos, H. antecessor might have been right-handed, a
trait that makes the species different from the other apes. This
hypothesis is based on tomography techniques. Arsuaga also claims that
the frequency range of audition is similar to H. sapiens, which makes
him suspect that H. antecessor used a symbolic language and was able
to reason. Arsuaga's team is currently pursuing a DNA map of H.
Based on teeth eruption pattern, the researchers think that H.
antecessor had the same development stages as H. sapiens, though
probably at a faster pace. Other significant features demonstrated by
the species are a protruding occipital bun, a low forehead, and a lack
of a strong chin. Some of the remains are almost indistinguishable
from the fossil attributable to the 1.5-million-year-old Turkana Boy,
belonging to H. ergaster.
Model of a female
Homo antecessor of Atapuerca practicing cannibalism
(Ibeas Museum, Burgos, Spain)
The only known fossils of H. antecessor were found at two sites in the
Sierra de Atapuerca region of northern
Gran Dolina and Sima del
Elefante). The type specimen for H. antecessor is ATD 6-5, dating to
approximately 780,000 years ago. Other sites yielding fossil
evidence of this hominid have been discovered in the United Kingdom
Eudald Carbonell i Roura of the Universidad Rovira i
Virgili in Tarragona,
Spain and palaeoanthropologist Juan Luis Arsuaga
Ferreras of the
Complutense University of Madrid
Complutense University of Madrid discovered Homo
antecessor remains at the
Gran Dolina (literally “Big Sinkhole”)
site in the Sierra de Atapuerca, east of
Burgos in what now is Spain.
The H. antecessor remains have been found in level 6 (TD6) of the Gran
More than 80 bone fragments from six individuals were uncovered in
1994 and 1995. The site also had included approximately 200 stone
tools and 300 animal bones. Stone tools including a stone carved knife
were found along with the ancient hominin remains. All these remains
were dated at least 900,000 years old. The best-preserved remains
are a maxilla (upper jawbone) and a frontal bone of an individual who
died at the age of 10–11.
Sima del Elefante
On June 29, 2007, Spanish researchers working at the Sima del Elefante
(“Pit of the Elephant”) site in the
Atapuerca Mountains of Spain
announced that they had recovered a molar dated to 1.2 to 1.1 million
years ago. The molar was described as "well worn" and from an
individual between 20 and 25 years of age. Additional findings
announced on 27 March 2008 included a mandible fragment, stone flakes,
and evidence of animal bone processing. These remains are the
oldest hominid remains in
Homo erectus georgicus from
Dmanisi, Georgia (dated 1.8 million years ago) and an infant tooth
Spain which has not received species assignation (1.4
Model of a male
Homo antecessor of Atapuerca mountains (Ibeas Museum,
In 2005, flint tools and teeth from the same strata as fossils of the
water vole Mimomys savini, a key dating species, were found in the
Pakefield near Lowestoft in Suffolk. This suggests that
hominins existed in England 700,000 years ago, potentially a cross
Homo antecessor and
In 2010, stone tool finds were reported in Happisburgh, Norfolk,
England, thought to have been used by H. antecessor,
suggesting that the early hominin species also lived in England about
950,000 years ago—the earliest known population of the genus
In May 2013, sets of fossilized footprints were discovered in an
estuary at Happisburgh. They are thought to date from 800,000
years ago and are theorized to have been left by a small group of
people, including several children and one adult male. The tracks are
considered the oldest human footprints outside Africa and the first
direct evidence of humans in this time period in the UK or northern
Europe, previously known only by their stone tools. Within two
weeks, the tracks had been covered again by sand, but scientists made
3D photogrammetric images of the prints, and attributed them to H.
Twenty tools dating back to the Paleolithic (pebble culture, 1.6
million years ago) were found in 2008.
Dawn of Humanity
Out of Africa I
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