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Biology Articles » Paleobiology » Paleobiology and comparative morphology of a late Neandertal sample from El Sidrón, Asturias, Spain

- Paleobiology and comparative morphology of a late Neandertal sample from El Sidrón, Asturias, Spain

Paleobiology and comparative morphology of a late Neandertal sample from El Sidrón, Asturias, Spain

Antonio Rosasa,b, Cayetana Martínez-Mazaa, Markus Bastira,c, Antonio García-Taberneroa, Carles Lalueza-Foxd, Rosa Huguete, José Eugenio Ortizf, Ramón Juliàg, Vicente Solerh, Trinidad de Torresf, Enrique Martínezi, Juan Carlos Cañaverasj, Sergio Sánchez-Moralk, Soledad Cuezvak, Javier Lariol, David Santamaríam, Marco de la Rasillam, and Javier Forteam

aDepartamento de Paleobiología, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC), Calle José Gutierrez Abascal 2, 28006 Madrid, Spain; dDepartament de Biologia Animal, Facultat de Biologia, Universitat de Barcelona, Avenida Diagonal 645, 08028 Barcelona, Spain; eÁrea de Prehistoria, Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Plaça Imperial Tarraco 1, 43005 Tarragona, Spain; fEscuela Técnica Superior de Ingenieros de Minas, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Calle Ríos Rosas 21, 28003 Madrid, Spain; gInstituto Jaume Almera, CSIC, Calle Lluís Solé i Sabarís s/n, 08028 Barcelona, Spain; hInstituto de Productos Naturales, CSIC, Avenida Astrofísico Francisco Sánchez 3, 38206 Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain; iDepartamento de Geología, Universidad de Oviedo, Calle Jesús Arias de Velasco s/n, 33005 Oviedo, Spain; jDepartamento de Ciencias de la Tierra, Universidad de Alicante, Apartado de Correos 99, 03080 Alicante, Spain; kDepartamento de Geología, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSIC, Calle José Gutierrez Abascal 2, 28006 Madrid, Spain; mDepartamento de Historia, Universidad de Oviedo, Calle Teniente Alfonso Martínez s/n, 33011 Oviedo, Spain; cHull–York Medical School, University of York, Heslington, YO 105DD, England; and lDepartamento de Ciencias Analíticas, Universidad Nacional de Educación Distancia, Paseo Senda del Rey 9, 28040 Madrid, Spain

Communicated by Erik Trinkaus, Washington University, St. Louis, MO, November 4, 2006 (received for review September 21, 2006)


Fossil evidence from the Iberian Peninsula is essential for understanding Neandertal evolution and history. Since 2000, a new sample {approx}43,000 years old has been systematically recovered at the El Sidrón cave site (Asturias, Spain). Human remains almost exclusively compose the bone assemblage. All of the skeletal parts are preserved, and there is a moderate occurrence of Middle Paleolithic stone tools. A minimum number of eight individuals are represented, and ancient mtDNA has been extracted from dental and osteological remains. Paleobiology of the El Sidrón archaic humans fits the pattern found in other Neandertal samples: a high incidence of dental hypoplasia and interproximal grooves, yet no traumatic lesions are present. Moreover, unambiguous evidence of human-induced modifications has been found on the human remains. Morphologically, the El Sidrón humans show a large number of Neandertal lineage-derived features even though certain traits place the sample at the limits of Neandertal variation. Integrating the El Sidrón human mandibles into the larger Neandertal sample reveals a north–south geographic patterning, with southern Neandertals showing broader faces with increased lower facial heights. The large El Sidrón sample therefore augments the European evolutionary lineage fossil record and supports ecogeographical variability across Neandertal populations.

dental hypoplasia | geographic patterning | geometric morphometrics | mandible | Neandertal diversity

PNAS, December 19, 2006, vol. 103, no. 51, 19266-19271.


Neandertal morphology evolved in the northwestern corner of the Old World through a long evolutionary process, whose fossil evidence is present through the European Middle and Late Pleistocene geological record (16). In this process, variation across the geographical range of Neandertals through its evolutionary history should be evident. The recovery of mtDNA in an increasingly number of early Late Pleistocene specimens is beginning to document an emerging Neandertal phylogeographic pattern (79), and this pattern may be present as well in their skeletal morphology.

The paleoanthropological collection presently retrieved at the El Sidrón cave site (Asturias, Spain) represents the most significant Neandertal sample in the Iberian Peninsula, and it allows further insight into these evolutionary processes and diversification of Middle Paleolithic populations across geographic regions. At a local scale, the El Sidrón site fulfills a significant gap in the fossil record of the Cantabrian region. A long tradition of Paleolithic research in the region (10) has yielded a rich Pleistocene cultural record (e.g., El Castillo, La Viña, El Pendo, Morín), but the scarcity of human remains has precluded a characterization of the humans inhabiting the area. The large sample from El Sidrón provides a portrait of those late Neandertals living in the Cantabrian range.

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