Publication: Metric and morphological study of the upper cervical spine from
the Sima de los Huesos site (Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain)
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Elsevier Science B.V., Amsterdam
In this article, the upper cervical spine remains recovered from the Sima de los Huesos (SH) middle Pleistocene site in the Sierra de Atapuerca (Burgos, Spain) are described and analyzed. To date, this site has yielded more than 5000 human fossils belonging to a minimum of 28 individuals of the species Homo heidelbergensis. At least eleven individuals are represented by the upper cervical (C1 and C2) specimens: six adults and five subadults, one of which could represent an adolescent individual. The most complete adult vertebrae (three atlases and three axes) are described, measured, and compared with other fossil hominins and modern humans. These six specimens are associated with one another and represent three individuals. In addition, one of these sets of cervical vertebrae is associated with Cranium 5 (Individual XXI) from the site. The metric analysis demonstrates that the Sima de los Huesos atlases and axes are metrically more similar to Neandertals than to our modern human comparative sample. The SH atlases share with Neandertals a sagittally elongated canal. The most remarkable feature of the SH (and Neandertal) axes is that they are craniocaudally low and mediolaterally wide compared to our modern male sample. Morphologically, the SH sample shares with Neandertals a higher frequency of caudally projected anterior atlas arch, which could reflect greater development of the longus colli muscle. In other features, such as the frequency of weakly developed tubercles for the attachment of the transverse ligament of the atlas, the Sima de los Huesos fossils show intermediate frequencies between our modern comparative samples and the Neandertals, which could represent the primitive condition. Our results are consistent with the previous phylogenetic interpretation of H. heidelbergensis as an exclusively European species, ancestral only to H. neanderthalensis.