Publication: The Sima de los Huesos cervical spine
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Information regarding the evolution of the neck in genus Homo is hampered owing to a limited fossil record. Neandertals display significant metric and/or morphological differences in all the cervical vertebrae, when compared to Homo sapiens. Thus, the important fossil record from the Middle Pleistocene site of Sima de los Huesos (SH) not only offers important information about the evolution of this anatomical region within the Neandertal lineage, but also provides important clues to understand the evolution of this region at the genus level. We present the current knowledge of the anatomy of the cervical spine of the hominins found in SH compared to that of Neandertals and modern humans, and, when possible, to Homo erectus and Homo antecessor. The current SH fossil record comprises 172 cervical specimens (after refittings) belonging to a minimum of 11 atlases, 13 axes, and 52 subaxial cervical vertebrae. The SH hominins exhibit a morphological pattern in their cervical spine more similar to that of Neandertals than that of H. sapiens, which is consistent with the phylogenetic position of these hominins. However, there are some differences between the SH hominins and Neandertals in this anatomical region, primarily in the length and robusticity, and to a lesser extent in the orientation of the spinous processes of the lowermost cervical vertebrae. We hypothesize that these differences in the lowermost subaxial cervical vertebrae could be related to the increase in the brain size and/or changes in the morphology of the skull that occurred in the Neandertal lineage.