1.2 mya an ancient human ancestor entered into what is today Europe with a unique mix of modern and primitive traits. This AHA is believed to be among the earliest human ancestors in Europe. We call this species “Homo antecessor” meaning “human pioneer.”
First discovered back in 1997 H. antecessor is much debated when it comes to just how this species is related to modern humans. Some anthropologists believe it to be a transitional species between H. erectus/ergaster and H. heidelbergensis. Others hold the view that this “human pioneer” was the last common ancestor of modern humans and Neanderthals. This species displays both modern and archaic morphology yet it displays traits not seen in either H. sapiens or the Neanderthals. Still, other anthropologists believe H. antecessor to be a separate species that evolved from H. erectus/ergaster. As if these various theories were not enough yet another one postulates H. antecessor is the same species as H. heidelbergensis which was in Europe about 600 kya to around 250 kya.
What we have in terms of fossil remains for this species are some lower jaw bones and about 14 bone fragments. In 1994 about 80 remains were found from 6 individuals who MAY have belonged to this species. These remains were found in the Atapuerca Mountains in northern Spain near Castile Leon. No complete skull has been found. I must also be noted that MOST of these remains are from CHILDREN! As you well know the bodies of children change as they grow into adults and enter into puberty and it may be that H. antecessor adults did not look like modern humans at all. The best fossil remain we have of this species is a lower jaw bone belonging to a 10 year old juvenile from Spain. This fossil has been dated between 857-780 kya.
H. antecessor may have been a CANNIBAL! Actually, cannibalism is NOT unusual for early human ancestors as much as we’d like to think otherwise. Numerous bits of evidence found at the Atapuerca site show cuts where flesh have been stripped from the bones which is a typical indicator of cannibalism. Further, on the coast near Norfolk in England 800 kya footprints believed to be from this species have also been found.
Some researchers believe H. antecessor may have indeed evolved from H. erectus in Africa around 1.5 mya and migrated into Europe. They also believe that once in Europe this species evolved into H. heidelbergenesis who, in turned, evolved into the Neanderthals. Very complicated! And if this is so then evolution was clearly not only going on in Africa but in EUROPE too! Was it evolution or were these simply different “breeds” of ancient humans who interbred with each other?
DNA analysis in 2013 a 400 kyr femur from the Sima de los Huesos in the Atapuerca Mountains, Spain was sequenced. This is the oldest AHA DNA sequence published to date. Sadly, it did not do anything to solve the “mystery” but only muddied the waters more. Researchers were “baffled” by the results of the DNA sequence because it seemed to show H. antecessor had a closer link to the Denisovans rather than Neanderthals!! Some researchers believe this species may be some western side branch of the Denisovans, however, we do NOT have a lot of evidence from the Denisovans.
The newest research on H. antecessor comes from the University of Barcelona (Spain). It asserts this species had a more demanding diet than other hominids in Europe and Africa meaning it like ate harder and more abrasive foods. This evidence comes from marks on dental enamel found in the lower jaw specimens. However, this research team was unable to determine exactly what foods this species actually ate but it likely ate hard plant foods and raw meat stripped from bones (cannibalism?).
In terms of stone tools it appears H. antecessor had LESS sophisticated stone tools than did H. heidelbergensis. In fact, the stone tools of H. antecessor were primitive like Oldowan stone tools. Recall that early H. erectus used Oldowan stone tools that are very primitive tools and it was only in later H. erectus we find development of the Acheulean stone tool industry.
So how big was H. antecessor? We have no complete skull. We certainly have no full or partial skeleton. But, researchers estimate this species stood about 5-6 ft tall (1.6-1.8 cm) with males perhaps weighing somewhere around 200 lbs (90 kg). There brain case is estimated to be around 1000-1150 cm which is smaller than our own which is on average around 1350 cm. Keep in mind these are ESTIMATES ONLY. Further, it is believed to have been more robust than H. heidelbergensis. Frankly, this is a whole lot of speculation in my opinion which is based on the bone remains of juveniles! Further, some researchers postulate that H. antecessor may have been right-handed although there is NO EVIDENCE supporting this at all other than via tomography which is a procedure involving sectioning images. The speculation gets WILDER, however, as some researchers also believe this species used some symbolic language and was able to reason. SPECULATION! NO REAL EVIDENCE for any of this!! I really think BEFORE these kind of assumptions are made we need some EVIDENCE! I think making such wild assumptions without evidence is IRRESPONSIBLE at best!!
Now, ironically, based on tooth eruption researchers believe this species had the SAME developmental stages as modern humans although likely at a faster rate! Again, NO evidence for this sped up development. SPECULATION! They also believe H. antecessor had a protruding occipital bun which is a rather prominent bulge at the back of the skull commonly seen in Neanderthals and is also RARELY seen in H. sapiens (modern humans). Researchers also theorize this species had a low forehead and lacked a strong chin. Now here is the clincher in my opinion with H. antecessor………..
Several researchers note that some of the fossil remains of H. antecessor are ALMOST INDISTINGUISHABLE from TURKANA BOY! Turkana Boy is a 1.5 myr HOMO ERGASTER/ERECTUS found in AFRICA! Personally, I think H. antecessor MAY have been a HYBRID species, the result of H. erectus interbreeding with perhaps Denisovans! Of course we have very little evidence of Denisovans also so here’s a MORE LIKELY possibility in my opinion. I think H. antecessor may well have been some sort of hybrid between H. erectus/ergaster and modern humans! Of but wait! The dates are all wrong because according to mainstream theory modern humans didn’t come on stage until around 200 kya. Well perhaps the dates are WRONG! After all, we are dating sediments in most cases and sediments are NOT stagnant as any elementary course in geology will reveal!! Whatever this species was one thing I am pretty certain about is that H. antecessor was some sort of HYBRID and I’ll be looking more into this species in time for sure.
TO BE CONTINUED……………………
For more information on H. antecessor see: