Human Paleontology and Prehistory

Part of the series Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology pp 145-159


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

  • G. Philip RightmireAffiliated withDepartment of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Peabody Museum Email author 

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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