Before the Neanderthals: Hominid Evolution in Middle Pleistocene Europe

  • Ian Tattersall
Part of the Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology book series (VERT)


Hublin’s (1998) influential “accretion model” essentially places all Middle Pleistocene European fossils in a single variable lineage culminating in Homo neanderthalensis. In this contribution I briefly examine the morphological justification (1) for regarding Homo neanderthalensis as a fully individuated Late Pleistocene entity, and (2) for the coexistence not of one but for two hominid clades (at least) in Europe during the Middle Pleistocene. One of those clades is entirely endemic to Europe and includes, along with the Neanderthals, hominids such as those from Steinheim, Reilingen and the Sima de los Huesos at Atapuerca. The other, broadly contemporaneous with it, shows none of the cranial synapomorphies of this “Neanderthal clade.” Instead, it unites forms such as Mauer, Arago and Petralona with a cosmopolitan group of fossils that includes Kabwe and Bodo in Africa, and Dali and Jinniushan in China. It is to this group that the nomen Homo heidelbergensis applies; and as long as the Neanderthal-related Sima de los Huesos specimens continue to be misguidedly attributed to Homo heidelbergensis, major confusion will reign in European Middle Pleistocene hominid systematics.


Hominidae Evolution Homo neanderthalensis Homo heidelbergensis “Accretion model” 



I am most grateful to the organizers of the “150 Years of Neanderthal Discoveries” meeting for the privilege of attending this stimulating and historic event, and to Silvana Condemi and Gerd-C. Weniger for their invitation to contribute to this volume of proceedings. Thanks also to Eric Delson, and to Gary Sawyer and Ken Mowbray for the illustration.


  1. Adam, K. D. (1989). Alte und neuer Urmenschenfunde I sudwest-Deutschland – Eine kritische Wardigung. Quartär, 39/40, 177–190.Google Scholar
  2. Ahern, J. C. M. (2006). Nom-metric variation in recent humans as a model for understanding Neanderthal-early modern human differences: Just how “unique” are Neanderthal unique traits? In K. Harvati & T. Harrison (Eds.), Neanderthals revisited: New approaches and perspectives (pp. 255–268). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arsuaga, J. L., Bermudez de Castro, J. M., & Carbonell, E. (1997). Special issue on the Sima de los Huesos hominids and site. Journal of Human Evolution, 33(2/3), 105–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Asfaw, B., Gilbert, W. H., Bayene, Y., Hart, W. K., Renne, P. R., WoldeGabriel, G., Vrba, E. S., & White, T. D. (2002). Remains of Homo erectus from Bouri, Middle Awash, Ethiopia. Nature, 416, 317–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bermudez de Castro, J. M., Arsuaga, J.-L., Carbonell, E., Rosas, A., Martinez, I., & Mosquera, M. (1997). A hominid from the lower Pleistocene of Atapuerca: Possible ancestors to Neandertals and modern humans. Science, 276, 1392–1395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bermudez de Castro, J. M., Martinon-Torres, M., Gomez-Robles, A., Margvelashvili, A., Arsuaga, J.L., Carretero, J.M., Martinez, I., & Sarmiento, S. (2011). The Gran Dolina-TD6 human fossil remains and the origin of Neanderthals. In: S. Condemi and G.-C. Weniger (Eds), Continuity and discontinuity in the peopling of Europe (pp. 67–76). Dordrecht: Springer. Google Scholar
  7. Bischoff, J. L., Williams, R. W., Rosenbauer, R. J., Aramburu, A., Arsuaga, J Ll, Garcıa, N., & Cuenca-Besco, G. (2007). High-resolution U-series dates from the Sima de los Huesos hominids yields 600ʿN kyrs: Implications for the evolution of the early Neanderthal lineage. Journal of Archaeological Science, 34, 763–770.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Blackwell, B., & Schwarcz, H. (1986). U-series analysis of the Lower Travertine at Ehringsdorf, DDR. Quaternary Research, 25, 215–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Caramelli, D., Milani, L., Stanyon, R., & Fox, C. L. (2011). Towards Neanderthal paleogenomics. In: S. Condemi and G.-C. Weniger (Eds), Continuity and discontinuity in the peopling of Europe (pp. 219–222). Dordrecht: Springer. Google Scholar
  10. Clark, J. D., deHeinzlin, J., Schick, K. D., Hart, W. K., White, T., WoldeGabriel, G., Walter, R. C., Suwa, G., Asfaw, B., Vrba, E., & Haile-Selassie, Y. (1994). Old radiometric ages and young Oldowan assemblages in the Middle Awash Valley, Ethiopia. Nature, 264, 1907–1910.Google Scholar
  11. Condemi, S. (1996). Does the human fossil specimen from Reilingen (Germany) belong to the Homo erectus or the Neanderthal lineage? L’Anthropologie, (Brno) 34, 34/1-2, 69–77.Google Scholar
  12. Cook, J. (1982). A review of the chronology of the European middle Pleistocene hominid record. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, 25, 19–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Czarnetzki, A. (1989). Ein archäischer Hominidencalvarium aus einer Kiesgrübe in Reilingen, Rhein-Neckar-Kreis. Quartär, 39/40, 191–201.Google Scholar
  14. Dean, D., Hublin, J.-J., Holloway, R., & Ziegler, R. (1998). On the phylogenetic position of the pre-Neandertal specimen from Reilingen, Germany. Journal of Human Evolution, 34, 485–508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dobzhansky, T. (1944). On species and races of fossil and living man. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 2, 251–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Green, R. E., Krause, J., Ptak, S. E., Briggs, A. W., Ronan, M. T., Simons, J. F., Du, L., Egholm, M., Rothberg, J. M., Paunovic, M., & Pääbo, S. (2006). Analysis of one million base pairs of Neanderthal DNA. Nature, 444, 330–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Grün, R. (1988). ERS dating of spring-deposited travertines. Quaternary Science Reviews, 7, 429–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Grün, R. (1996). A re-analysis of electron spin resonance dating results associated with the Petralona hominid. Journal of Human Evolution, 30, 227–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Grün, R., Schwarcz, H. P., Ford, D. C., & Hentzsch Grün, B. (1988). ESR dating of spring deposited travertines. Quaternary Science Reviews 7, 429–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Harvati, K., & Harrison, T. (2006). Neanderthals revisited. In K. Harvati & T. Harrison (Eds.), Neanderthals revisited: New approaches and perspectives (pp. 1–8). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Harvati, K., Frost, S. R., & McNulty, K. P. (2004). Neanderthal taxonomy reconsidered: Implications of 3D primate models of inter- and intra-specific differences. Proceedings of the National Academic Sciences USA, 101, 1147–1152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hawks, J. D., & Wolpoff, M. H. (2001). The accretion model of Neandertal evolution. Evolution, 55, 1474–1485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Holliday, T. W. (2006). Neanderthals and modern humans: An example of a mammalian syngameon? In K. Harvati & T. Harrison (Eds.), Neanderthals revisited: New approaches and perspectives (pp. 281–298). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hublin, J. J. (1998). Climatic changes, paleogeography, and the evolution of Neandertals. In T. Akazawa, K. Aoki, & O. Bar-Yosef (Eds.), Neandertal and modern humans in Western Asia (pp. 295–310). New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  25. Hublin, J.-J. (2001). Northwestern African Middle Pleistocene hominids and their bearingon the emergence of Homo sapiens. In L. Barham & K. Robson-Brown (Eds.), Human roots: Africa and Asia in the Middle Pleistocene (pp. 99–131). Bristol: Western Academic and Specialist Press.Google Scholar
  26. Hublin, J.-J., Spoor, F., Braun, M., Zonneveld, F., & Condemi, S. (1996). A late Neanderthal from Arcy-sur-Cure associated with Upper Paleolithic artefacts. Nature, 381, 224–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Huxley, T. H. (1863). Evidence as to Man’s place in Nature. London: Williams and Norgate.Google Scholar
  28. Huxtable, J., & Aitken, M. (1988). Datation par thermoluminescence. In A. Tuffreau & J. Somme (Eds.), Le gisement paleolithique moyen de Biache-Saint-Vaast (Pas de Calais, Vol. 1). Mémoires de la Société Préhistorique Française 21,107–108.Google Scholar
  29. Lalueza-Fox, C., Sampietro, M. L., Caramelli, D., Puder, Y., Lari, M., Calafell, F., Martinez Maza, C., Bastir, M., Fortea, J., Rasilla, M., Bertranpetit, J., & Rosas, A. (2005). Neanderthal evolutionary genetics: Mitochondrial DNA data from the Iberian Peninsula. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 22, 1077–1081.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mallegni, F. (2011). The earliest European human peopling after the recent discoveries: Early Neanderthals or different lineages? In: S. Condemi & G.-C. Weniger (Eds), Continuity and disconti-nuity in the peopling of Europe (pp. 55–66). Dordrecht: Springer. Google Scholar
  31. McDougall, I., Brown, F., & Fleagle, J. G. (2005). Stratigraphic placement and age of modern humans from Kibish, Ethiopia. Nature, 433, 733–736.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mayr, E. (1950). Taxonomic categories in fossil hominids. Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology, 15, 109–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Noonan, J. P., Coop, G., Kudaravalli, S., Smith, D., Krause, J., Alessi, J., Chen, F., Platt, D., Pääbo, S., Pritchard, J. K., & Rubin, E. M. (2006). Sequencing and analysis of Neanderthal genomic DNA. Science, 314, 1113–1118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ponce de León, M. S., & Zollikofer, C. P. E. (2001). Neanderthal cranial ontogeny and its implications for late hominid diversity. Nature, 412, 534–538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rak, Y. (1990). On the differences between two pelvises of Mousterian context from the Qafzeh and Kebara caves, Israel. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 81, 323–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rak, Y., Ginsburg, A., & Geffen, E. (1994). Does Homo neanderthalensis play a role in modern human ancestry? The mandibular evidence. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 119, 199–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Rosas, A., Bastir, M., Martinez-Maza, C., Garcia-Taberno, A., & Lalueza-Fox, C. (2006). Inquiries into Neanderthal craniofacial development and evolution: “accretion” versus “organismic” models. In K. Harvati & T. Harrison (Eds.), Neanderthals revisited: New approaches and perspectives (pp. 1–8). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  38. Sawyer, G. J., & Maley, B. (2005). Neanderthal reconstructed. Anatomical Record New Anatomist, 283B, 23–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Schaaffhausen, H. (1858). Zur Kentnis der ältesten Rassenschädel. Bgl Verh Nat Bereins Preuss Rheinlandeu. Westphalens, 14, 167–188.Google Scholar
  40. Schott, L. (1990). “Homo erectus reilingensis” – Anspruch und Wirk­lichkeit eines Schädelfundes. Biologische Rundschau, 28, 231–235.Google Scholar
  41. Schwarcz, H. P., & Latham, A. G. (1990). Absolute age determination of travertines from Vérteszöllös. In M. Kretzoi & V. Dobosi (Eds.), Vérteszöllös: Site, man and culture (pp. 549–555). Budapest: Akadémiai Kiado.Google Scholar
  42. Schwarcz, H. P., Latham, A. G., Mania, D., & Brunnacker, K. (1988). The Bilzingsleben archaeological site: New dating evidence. Archaeometry, 30, 5–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Schwartz, J. (2006). “Race” and the odd history of paleoanthropology. Anatomical Record New Anatomist, 289B, 225–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Schwartz, J. H., & Tattersall, I. (2005). The human fossil record, vol. 4: Craniodental morphology of early hominids (Genera Australopithecus, Paranthropus, Orrorin) and overview. New York: Wiley/Liss.Google Scholar
  45. Serre, D., & Pääbo, S. (2006). The fate of European Neanderthals: Results and perspectives from ancient DNA analyses. In K. Harvati & T. Harrison (Eds.), Neanderthals revisited: New approaches and perspectives (pp. 211–220). Berlin: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Stringer, C. B., & Gamble, C. (1993). In search of the Neanderthals. London: Thames and Hudson.Google Scholar
  47. Stringer, C. B., & Hublin, J. J. (1999). New age estimates for the Swanscombe hominid, and their significance for human evolution. Journal of Human Evolution, 37, 873–877.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Tattersall, I. (1986). Species recognition in the human fossil record. Journal of Human Evolution, 15, 165–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Tattersall, I. (1995). The fossil trail: How we know what we think we know about human evolution. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Tattersall, I. (2004). What happened in the origin of human consciousness? Anatomical Record New Anatomist, 267B, 19–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Tattersall, I., & Schwartz, J. H. (2006). The distinctiveness and wider systematic context of Homo neanderthalensis. In K. Harvati & T. Harrison (Eds.), Neanderthals revisited: New approaches and perspectives (pp. 9–22). Berlin: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Virchow, R. (1872). Untersuchung der Neanderthal-Schädels. Zeitschriftfar Ethnologie, 4, 157–165.Google Scholar
  53. Wagner, G. A., Krbetschek, M., Degering, D., Bahain, J.-J., Shao, Q., Falguères, C., Voinchet, P., Dolo, J.-M., Garcia, T., & Rightmire, G. P. (2010). Radiometric dating of the type-site for Homo heidelbergensis at Mauer, Germany. ­Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, doi/10.1073/pnas.1012722107.Google Scholar
  54. Ziegler, B., & Dean, D. D. (1998). Mammalian fauna and biostratigraphy of the pre-Neanderthal site of Reilingen, Germany. Journal of Human Evolution, 34, 469–484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of AnthropologyAmerican Museum of Natural HistoryNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations