A human mandible (BH-1) from the Pleistocene deposits of Mala Balanica cave (Sićevo Gorge, Niš, Serbia)
Neandertals and their immediate predecessors are commonly considered to be the only humans inhabiting Europe in the Middle and early Late Pleistocene. Most Middle Pleistocene western European specimens show evidence of a developing Neandertal morphology, supporting the notion that these traits evolved at the extreme West of the continent due, at least partially, to the isolation produced by glacial events. The recent discovery of a mandible, BH-1, from Mala Balanica (Serbia), with primitive character states comparable with Early Pleistocene mandibular specimens, is associated with a minimum radiometric date of 113 + 72 − 43 ka. Given the fragmented nature of the hemi-mandible and the fact that primitive character states preclude assignment to a species, the taxonomic status of the specimen is best described as an archaic Homo sp. The combination of primitive traits and a possible Late Pleistocene date suggests that a more primitive morphology, one that does not show Neandertal traits, could have persisted in the region. Different hominin morphologies could have survived and coexisted in the Balkans, the "hotspot of biodiversity." This first hominin specimen to come from a secure stratigraphic context in the Central Balkans indicates a potentially important role for the region in understanding human evolution in Europe that will only be resolved with more concentrated research efforts in the area.
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