Boxgrove man turned out to be a Neanderthal. But not really

(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists have compared the bones and teeth of the early people of Britain with Neanderthal fossils from northern Spain. The result is even more confusing.

A little less than 30 years ago, in the south of England, near the village of Boxgrove, archaeologists found leg bones and teeth of early man.

They were later dated to be around 480,000 years old, making them the oldest Homo remains in Britain.

Other finds made at Boxgrove also showed that people who lived there hunted and butchered horses, deer and rhinos.

The stone tools used by these early Britons have been attributed by scholars to the Acheulean culture.

Boxgrove man turned out to be a Neanderthal But not really 2
Tibia found in Boxgrove

Initially, anthropologists thought the bones belonged to the species Homo heidelbergensis , the Heidelberg man.

But a little later, a hypothesis appeared, according to which the inhabitants of Boxgrove belonged to the group of early Neanderthals – the closest relatives and rivals of Homo sapiens.

However, it should be borne in mind that some scientists consider the dividing line between Heidelbergians and Neanderthals not quite clear, largely arbitrary.

To resolve this issue, researchers from University College London (UK) and their Spanish colleagues compared bones and teeth from Boxgrove with fossils from La Sima de los Huesos, a cave in northern Spain.

La Sima is one of the richest sites for the discovery of ancient Homo remains in the world. The bones of about 30 people were recovered from a mine more than 15 meters deep.

When they were found, anthropologists suggested that the pit was used as a burial place. More recent studies have revealed a significant amount of skull damage.

Some of those whose remains were there apparently were deliberately killed and then thrown into the pit.

Based on their bones and DNA, scientists determined that they were early Neanderthals.

The age of the fossils is about 430,000 years, which is 50,000 years less than the dating of the bones and teeth from Boxgrove.

Boxgrove man turned out to be a Neanderthal But not really 3
Skull from La Sima de los Huesos. Scientists still have not agreed on who his owner was: a Neanderthal or a Heidelberg man

Therefore, British and Spanish scientists, including Juan Luis Arzuaga, who led the original excavations at La Sima, have suggested that the Boxgrove people shared features with Neanderthals from the Pyrenees.

“We were hoping to find that the bones and teeth together would tell us they were the same species, or demonstrate that they were completely different,” said Matt Pope of University College London.

It suddenly turned out that none of these scenarios corresponded to the available data. The teeth of the Boxgrove people and those of La Sima were found to be very similar, giving hope for a connection between the two populations.

But when the tibia from Boxgrove was compared with similar bones from La Sima, it became clear that they were completely different.

The tibia from Boxgrove differed in shape from the bones from La Sima: it is not only much stronger, but also has a different shape.

The most important question now is: Did the teeth and tibia from Boxgrove belong to a member of the same Homo species ?

The finds were made in different layers, although they are dated to approximately the same time. Nevertheless, it can be assumed that two populations of people lived in the same place (and at the same time) in the south of modern England: Neanderthals, similar to the inhabitants of La Sima, and Homo heidelbergensis.

This hypothesis looks more meaningful than the assumption of the existence of some third population – with the teeth of Neanderthals, but with different bones.

So, trying to solve the riddle only made things more confusing. Nevertheless, the British anthropologists who conducted the analysis consider it a very important result that they proved the similarity of the teeth of people from La Sima and Boxgrove – although they were separated by 50 thousand years and a thousand kilometers.

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