Indexed on: 20 Dec '11Published on: 20 Dec '11Published in: Journal of Human Evolution
The Zuttiyeh hominin craniofacial fossil was discovered in Israel in 1925. Radiometric dates and the archaeological context (Acheulo-Yabrudian) bracket the associated cave layers to between 200 and 500 ka (thousands of years ago), making it one of the earliest cranial fossils discovered in the Near East thus far. Its geographic position, at the corridor between Africa and Eurasia, in combination with its probable Middle Pleistocene date make it a crucial specimen for interpreting later human evolution. Since its discovery, qualitative descriptive and traditional morphometric methods have variously suggested affinities to Homo erectus (Zhoukoudian), Homo neanderthalensis (Tabun), and early Homo sapiens (Skhul and Qafzeh). To better determine the taxonomic affinities of the Zuttiyeh fossil, this study uses 3D semilandmark geometric morphometric techniques and multivariate statistical analyses to quantify the frontal and zygomatic region and compare it with other Middle to Late Pleistocene African and Eurasian hominins. Our results show that the frontal and zygomatic morphology of Zuttiyeh is most similar to Shanidar 5, a Near East Neanderthal, Arago 21, a European Middle Pleistocene hominin, and Skhul 5, an early H. sapiens. The shape differences between archaic hominins (i.e., Homo heidelbergensis and H. neanderthalensis) in this anatomical region are very subtle. We conclude that Zuttiyeh exhibits a generalized frontal and zygomatic morphology, possibly indicative of the population that gave rise to modern humans and Neanderthals. However, given that it most likely postdates the split between these two lineages, Zuttiyeh might also be an early representative of the Neanderthal lineage. Neanderthals largely retained this generalized overall morphology, whereas recent modern humans depart from this presumably ancestral morphology.