One of the most famous fossils in Europe, found in the Sierra de Atapuerca, in Burgos, and belonging to the Homo antecessor species, is from a girl between 9 and 11 years old and not from a man, as had been believed until now. Cecilia García-Campos, a researcher at the National Center for Research on Human Evolution (CENIEH), tells by telephone that the dental analysis of the fossils helped reveal the sexual identity of this individual who lived more than 800,000 years ago. "The boy from the Gran Dolina was actually a girl," says García-Campos.
The conclusions of the work, which was published this Tuesday in the Journal of Anthropological Sciences , show that the canine teeth of the individual H3, known up to now as the "boy from the Gran Dolina", in reference to the title of an emblematic popularization book by José María Bermúdez de Castro, they are female. "We are based on the study of dental tissues to find the sexual differences of the fossils", explains García-Campos. According to the scientist, women tend to have greater dimensions of tooth enamel and men a greater component of dentin, the bone structure that supports the tooth. "In this case we discovered to our surprise that the remains were of a young woman who had probably died in a fight over territory." The study shows that the fossil had clear evidence of cannibalism, appreciable in the cuts of the bone remains of these individuals, probably the result of a confrontation between rival groups.
The human remains found in the Gran Dolina, analyzed by many researchers, have established that the Homo antecessor species was cannibalistic, measuring 1.70 meters and had a modern face, similar to that of modern humans. The bones of the fingers and toes were also similar to those of Homo sapiens. His clavicle, on the other hand, indicates that the body was as wide as that of a Neanderthal. However, to date it had not been possible to assess the sexual dimorphism of this population because most of the individuals included in the sample are young. José María Bermúdez de Castro, coordinator of the CENIEH Paleobiology Program and co-director of the Atapuerca sites, explains in a press release that until now the sex of another individual was only known from a small tooth fragment, of which enamel proteins were obtained. And he adds: "But this study carried out by our group now opens up a new, very reliable way to estimate sex by means of a non-destructive method."
The study states that the sexual estimation methodology used has an accuracy rate of 92.3% , similar to that obtained when analyzing a coxal or a skull. “The advantage that teeth give you is that they are the best preserved skeletal parts of the entire human body and they are also formed very early in the lives of individuals. This allows us to estimate the sex of the youngest ”, says García-Campos. For the researcher, the relevance of this discovery is more on the social plane. "Being able to give a female name to an emblematic fossil in Europe serves to make visible the role of women in the history of human evolution," he says.
The finding, which shows that a young woman was involved in a process of interaction between groups that It turned out to be violent, it helps to rethink the role of women in these societies. "The girl from the Gran Dolina questions the traditional gender roles that are still preserved in which the woman is at home and the man at work," says García-Campos. And he concludes: “These works help to change the collective imagination of the female in the cave with two young or tanning skins. And they show us that women participated in hunting work and in disputes over territory. ”
The expert acknowledges that there was no prior scientific reason for Bermúdez de Castro to have decided that the remains of this fossil belonged to a man. “It arose randomly. When José María [Bermúdez de Castro] decided to make the book, he chose this masculine name, but for no specific reason. It has been necessary to wait for these new techniques to be able to know the sex with certainty ”, explains García-Campos.
Dental analysis to identify the sex of the hominids
The researcher García-Campos explains that the analysis of the fossil teeth, which is carried out through a high-resolution scanner, is equivalent to CT scans in hospitals and is very effective in differentiating whether the individuals studied were men or women. "I started working with a forensic sample provided by the Madrid School of Legal Medicine and we found that exploratory studies carried out on modern humans were more than 90% effective in determining their sex," says the researcher.
According to García- Campos, this methodology was then applied to the population of Krapina in Croatia, the largest sample of Neanderthal fossils in the world. “It was possible to confirm the sex of the fossils that had previously been estimated through other methodologies. And we were also able to expand the sample and identify the sex of younger individuals that had not been possible before ”, says the scientist. The same enamel and dentin analysis methodology was applied in a pre-Neanderthal population of Sima de los Huesos, in the Sierra de Atapuerca, and equally effective results were obtained.
It was at that moment that the researcher decided to study the fangs of the famous boy from the Gran Dolina. "This individual is represented by a partial face and a fragment of the frontal bone, although it is common for it to appear in the photos also together with a mandible found in 2003, which, curiously, is considered most likely female", explains García- Fields. The scientist also affirms that the girl from the Gran Dolina surely had a height and body proportions similar to those of a current young woman of her age, although it is possible that she had developed earlier.
You can follow MATERIA on Facebook , Twitter e Instagram , or sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter .