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November 26 2012
Humans and Neanderthals split from a common ancestor roughly half a million years ago. While many anthropologists will tell you we donâ€™t really know who that common ancestor was, others will say we do: the species Homo heidelbergensis, or something very much like it. An even smaller portion will point to another possibility: a controversial species called Homo antecessor.
H. antecessor, which first came to light in the 1990s, is known almost entirely from one cave in northern Spainâ€™s Atapuerca Mountains. While working at the Gran Dolina site from 1994 to 1996, a team of Spanish researchers found 80 fossils belonging to six hominid individuals that lived roughly 800,000 years ago. The hominidsâ€™ teeth were primitive like those of Homo erectus, but aspects of the hominidâ€™s faceâ€”particularly the shape of the nasal region and the presence of a facial depression above the canine tooth called the canine fossaâ€”were modern, resembling features of modern people. The unique mix of modern and primitive traits led the researchers to deem the fossils a new species, H. antecessor, in 1997.
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