Middle Pleistocene Homo Crania from Broken Hill and Petralona: Morphology, Metric Comparisons, and Evolutionary Relationships

  • G. Philip Rightmire
Part of the Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology book series (VERT)


A fossilized human cranium was discovered by miners quarrying at Broken Hill (now Kabwe) in 1921. Broken Hill is one of the best preserved hominins ever recovered from a later Middle Pleistocene locality. Remarkably, no comprehensive descriptive or comparative account has been published since 1928. Overall, Broken Hill resembles Homo erectus . The frontal is flattened with midline keeling, the vault is low, and the massive face is “hafted” to the braincase in such a way as to accentuate facial projection. At the same time, there are apomorphic features shared with later humans. Brain size is 1280 cm3, the temporal squama is arch-shaped, and the upper scale of the occipital is expanded relative to its lower nuchal portion. Specialized characters of the temporomandibular joint region include a raised articular tubercle and a sphenoid spine. Reorientation of the nasal aperture and placement of the incisive canal suggest that the face may be more nearly vertical than in H. erectus. It is apparent that Broken Hill is similar to other African crania from Bodo, Ndutu, and Elandsfontein as well as European fossils including Arago and Petralona. However, the systematic position of these hominins remains controversial. The material has been grouped into a series of grades within a broad H. sapiens category. A very different reading of the record recognizes multiple, distinct taxa and suggests that speciation must have occurred repeatedly throughout the Pleistocene. Still another perspective holds that differences among the African and European specimens are minor and can be attributed to geography and intragroup variation. It is argued that many of the fossils belong together in one widely dispersed taxon. If the Mauer mandible is included within this hypodigm, then the appropriate name is H. heidelbergensis . Treated in a broad sense, H. heidelbergensis is ancestral to both H. neanderthalensis and H. sapiens . This study will provide a detailed account of the morphology of Broken Hill and its similarities to other Middle Pleistocene hominins from Africa. Comparisons will include Arago, Petralona, and assemblages such as Sima de los Huesos. My approach will address the taxonomic utility of characters of the vault, cranial base and face, species-level systematics, and evolutionary relationships.


Craniofacial anatomy Encephalization Homo erectus Homo heidelbergensis Homo rhodesiensis Homo sapiens Neanderthals Phylogeny Speciation Intraspecific variation 



For access to the fossils in their care, I thank my friends and colleagues at the National Museum of Ethiopia (Addis Ababa), the Iziko South African Museum (Cape Town), the Natural History Museum (London), the Institut de Paléontologie Humaine (Paris), and the University of Thessaloniki. Ian Tattersall allowed me to study materials held in the American Museum of Natural History (New York). Graham Avery, George Koufos, Robert Kruszynski, and Chris Stringer helped me with the process of gathering data central to this research. My studies of Middle Pleistocene Homo have been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Leakey Foundation, the Eckler Fund of Binghamton University, and the American School for Prehistoric Research at Harvard University. In the course of these investigations, I have benefited from the anatomical expertise, sound science, and good humor of Yoel Rak.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Human Evolutionary BiologyHarvard University, Peabody MuseumCambridgeUSA

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