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A 400,000 (390-436 ka) year old Portuguese partial skull was discovered in ’14 from Gruta da Aroeira cave. The paper that announces this skull, now known as Aroeira 3 cranium, is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Virtual reconstruction of the Aroeira 3 cranium in a three-quarters view, Elena Santos

It is definitely archaic Homo, but has a combination of traits not seen in any other Middle Pleistocene individual. The supra-orbital torus is like Bilzingsleben, a Homo erectus, cranium. The mastoid processes is short, like the Steinheim Homo heidelbergensis specimen. A large post glenoid process is like the Atapuerca Neanderthal, but there is a raised, not flattened articular eminence, which contrasts Neanderthals.

This cranium occupies a very similar temporal and spatial provenance to those from Atapeurca and Arago, but has clearly different morphological traits. This suggests that there was a complex inter species diversity, or as some would phrase, the human evolution tree was very bushy, in Europe during the Middle Pleistocene.

The paper also expands on the archaeological record and its implications. There are stone tools from the site that support the expansion of the Acheulean culture during this time period and location, as well as the first evidence for widespread, systematic controlled use of fire. These two findings suggest that these innovation spread to southwest Europe rapidly independent of the diversity of Homo species.

What do you think, is Aroeira 3 a Homo heidelbergens that was shamed a couple years ago in Science?

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