The objective of subproject 3 is to investigate the evolutionary scenario of the Pleistocene hominins of Eurasia through the characterization of the morphological variability of these groups and their contextualization in a precise spatial and chronological framework. We will focus on the study of the fossil hominins recovered in the Sierra de Atapuerca and their comparison with those from other relevant sites in Eurasia. We will pay particular attention to cranial, mandibular and dental evidence, studying both original fossils and digital reconstructions from microtomographs. 

This subproject also plans to carry out the initial stages of the development of a line of research in paleoproteomics, which would reinforce our taxonomic and phylogenetic research. The study will begin by exploring the analysis of proteins in the different species of cave bears found in the different sites of the Sierra de Atapuerca. If the analysis in Ursus is successful, the project will extend its object of study to the hominins found in the same levels. In addition to investigating the taxonomic signal of dental tissues, we will also explore the influence of mechanical and genetic factors on dental variation through i) a biomechanical analysis using Finite Element Analysis (FEA) and Occlusal Fingerprinting (OFA) and ii) investigating how dental anatomical variation associated with ectodysplasin-related traits and traits identified by quantitative genetics vary across the Atapuerca sequence. We will also address the study of the evolution of brain anatomy and cognition, studying the spatial correspondence between the parietal cortex and the endocranial cavity, and the topological relationships between different cortical regions. The evolution of the tool-body relationship will be addressed by investigating aspects related to haptics and visual attention. We will study if these changes are detected in the morphotechnical configurations of the Middle and Late Pleistocene.

Our paleobiological results will be contextualized in an environmental, geological and chronological framework that includes both original data taken by our own team and information available in the literature. From a geological perspective, efforts will be devoted to understand the formation of the deposits and the geological context of the samples under study through geomorphological, geophysical and taphonomic approaches.

From a chronological point of view, biochronological information and up to five geochronological dating methods (luminescence, electron paramagnetic resonance, Uranium series, paleomagnetism and cosmogenic nuclides) will be used, all of them available at ICTS-CENIEH and applied jointly to the same sites (Gran Dolina, Sima del Elefante, Galería and Cueva Fantasma). This unprecedented, multi-methodological approach, within and between sites, will allow the reconstruction of a precise time frame for the analysis of hominin absence/presence patterns in Eurasia, as well as important methodological improvements in Quaternary dating techniques. Based on this large amount of data, we hope to improve our understanding of the variability of Pleistocene hominins in Europe, their demography, and the occupation patterns of the continent.