Analysis of variation and distribution of evolutionary novelties is meaningful in understanding evolutionary processes. The mandible, as a morphological complex, comprises a large number of derived Neanderthal features. The present study investigates whether the features usually considered as European lineage apomorphies evolved independently; the occurrence of these features is studied in the mandibles from the Sima de los Huesos (SH) site (Atapuerca, Spain). For comparative purposes, a large sample of Neanderthal mandibles as well as older fossil Homo specimens have been used for the study. Chi-square tests were employed to test for independence. The SH mandibles present a set of features that clearly show the basic architecture of the Neanderthal mandible. A highly significant association is detected in the variation of the position of the mental foramen, the lateral prominence, and the anterior marginal tubercle, as well as in the development of retromolar space. However, a much weaker association is detected in the features of the internal aspect of the mandible, with a few exceptions. Features of the external aspect of the mandible occur chronologically earlier than those observed in the internal aspect. The hypothesis that two distinct and consecutive morphological processes have driven the emergence of the European lineage throughout the Middle Pleistocene is proposed. A first transformation affects the mandible by means of backwards displacement of the structures located at the external aspect, as well as the position of the condyle. A second process would modify the features of the internal aspect of the mandible, in which the relief of the masseteric and pterygoid fossae are affected, in association with a spatial rearrangement of the corpus and ramus. Analyzed individually, some of the considered features may be questioned as Neanderthal apomorphies (Trinkaus,1993; Franciscus and Trinkaus, 995); however, the joint occurrence of many of them suggests that the complex is an evolutionary novelty.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.