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Pit of Bones Reveals Neandertal Evolution

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An international team of scientists has announced that Spain’s “Pit of Bones” archaeological site contains the oldest known fossils with Neandertal traits. Analysis of the skulls at the site has revealed that the hallmark facial features of Neandertals took shape as a first step in their evolution, while their other defining features arose at different times – and not in a single linear sweep.

Published in Science, the researchers say the 17 skulls described, including seven not previously reported, were deposited at Sima de los Huesos about 430,000 years ago. This date clears up debate over the age of the fossils at the site. Previous dates earlier than 530,000 years ago were considered incompatible with morphological and genetic evidence for human evolution of the time.

“This age range is one of the most difficult to date but, rather than relying on a single dating technique, we’ve used six different techniques to produce a robust chronological study which would not have been possible a few years ago,” says Dr Lee Arnold of the University of Adelaide, who conducted dating of the site. “We’ve resolved the age of the fossils at 100,000 years younger than previously reported, which makes them the oldest reliably dated humans to show clear Neandertal morphology.”

So far more than 30 individuals have been recovered from Sima de los Huesos and their...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.