Fossilized jaw from Banyoles was not Neanderthal

(ORDO NEWS) — Paleoanthropologists have studied a 41,000 to 73,000-year-old mandible from Banyoles, discovered at the end of the 19th century.

Although this fossil was long thought to be a Neanderthal, scientists have found no characteristic features to attribute it to this species.

On the contrary, the results of the analyzes showed that it is more similar to the jaws of people of the modern anatomical type, but at the same time, the studied individual lacked a developed chin protrusion.

At the same time, scientists could not unambiguously determine which population of ancient people he belonged to.

In 1887, while mining limestone near the Spanish city of Banyoles, a worker discovered a man’s lower jaw at a depth of about four meters.

Then the find was handed over to the pharmacist and naturalist Pere Alsius, who published the first descriptions of this fossil at the beginning of the 20th century.

The jaw turned out to be almost complete, and some of its missing parts were probably lost during extraction.

Most researchers believed that the fossil is the remains of a Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis). However, some authors have emphasized that the morphology of the jaw casts doubt on this.

In 2006, scientists presented the results of dating this find.

Using the uranium series method, they determined the minimum age of the jaw by analyzing the rock in which it was found. It turned out that it is older than 41-49 thousand years.

The tooth sample was then dated using a combined uranium series and electron spin resonance method, which showed an age of between 59,000 and 73,000 years.

This dating testified in favor of the fact that, most likely, the jaw belonged to a late Neanderthal.

Fossilized jaw from Banyoles was not Neanderthal 2
The location of the Spanish city of Banyoles, near which the jaw of Brian Keeling et al. was found at the end of the 19th century

Brian Keeling of Binghamton University, together with colleagues from Argentina, Spain and the United States, re-examined the mandible from Banyoles. To do this, they made a CT scan of the fossil, after which they built a three-dimensional model of it.

For comparative analysis, the scientists included in the work three-dimensional models of 87 mandibles of adult individuals who lived in Africa, Europe and Southwest Asia in the Middle (n = 5) and Late Pleistocene (n = 19) epochs, as well as in the Holocene epoch (n = 63).

Morphological analysis of the jaw from Banyoles showed that it has some primitive features characteristic of archaic representatives of the genus Homo.

However, paleoanthropologists have not found signs clearly inherited from Neanderthals or Cro-Magnons.

The most noticeable feature of this jaw is the absence of a developed chin protrusion, characteristic of people of a modern anatomical type.

According to the researchers, in general, the morphology of the fossil is more consistent with more primitive human populations, despite its dating and origin from the south of Western Europe.

Fossilized jaw from Banyoles was not Neanderthal 3
Jaw of an ancient man from Banyoles in different projections

At the same time, the method of geometric morphometry used to analyze three-dimensional reconstructions indicated that the jaw from Spain is most similar in shape to the jaws of people of modern appearance who lived in the Holocene and Pleistocene epochs.

Among the non-H. sapiens fossils, the Banyoles specimen was closest to the Neanderthal at the French La Quina site, as well as the Homo erectus (H. erectus) from the North African site of Ternifin, who lived about 700,000 years ago.

The researchers could not unambiguously determine which type of ancient people the jaw belonged to.

At the same time, they considered several scenarios: from a hybrid between a Neanderthal and a Cro-Magnon to the presence in Europe in the late Pleistocene of another population (the descendants of the Heidelberg people (H. heidelbergensis), which developed in parallel with the Neanderthals, or migrants from the Middle East, close to the individual Nesher- Ramla).

According to paleoanthropologists, two hypotheses look the most promising. According to the first, the individual from Banyoles is a human of the modern anthropological type, according to the second, he is a hybrid between H. sapiens and an archaic population (but not with Neanderthals), which is still unknown.

It is possible that paleogenetic or paleoproteomic analyzes will help shed light on the species of the jaw.


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