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THE HEIDELBERG JAW

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THE HEIDELBERG JAW

In addition to Dubois's Java man discoveries, further evidence relating to human evolution turned up in the form of the Heidelberg jaw. On October 21,1907, Daniel Hartmann, a workman at a sand pit at Mauer, near Heidelberg, Germany, discovered a large jawbone at the bottom of the excavation, at a depth of 82 feet. The workmen were on the lookout for bones, and many other nonhuman fossils had already been found there and turned over to the geology department at the near 848j92i by University of Heidelberg. The workman then brought the jaw over to J. Riisch, the owner of the pit, who sent a message to Dr. Otto Schoetensack: "For twenty long years you have sought some trace of early man in my pit... yesterday we found it. A lower jaw belonging to early man has been found on the floor of the pit, in a very good state of preservation."



Professor Schoetensack des­ignated the creature Homo heidelbergensis, dating it using the accompanying fossils to the Gunz-Mindel interglacial period. In 1972, David Pilbeam said the Heidelberg jaw "appears to date from the Mindel glaciation, and its age is somewhere between 250,000 and 450,000 years."

The German anthropologist Johannes Ranke, an opponent of evolution, wrote in the 1920s that the Heidelberg jaw belonged to a representative of Homo sapiens rather than an apelike predecessor. Even today, the Heidelberg jaw remains somewhat of a morphological mystery. The thickness of the mandible and the apparent lack of a chin are features common in Homo erectus. But mandibles of some modern Australian aboriginals are also massive compared to jaws of modern Europeans and have chins that are less well developed.

According to Frank E. Poirier (1977), the teeth in the Heidelberg jaw are closer in size to those of modern Homo sapiens than those of Asian Homo erectus (Java man and Beijing man). T. W. Phenice of Michigan State University wrote in 1972 that "the teeth are remarkably like those of modern man in almost every respect, including size and cusp patterns." Modern opinion thus confirms Ranke, who wrote in 1922: "The teeth are typically human."



Another European fossil generally attributed to Homo erectus is the Vertesszollos occipital fragment, from a Middle Pleistocene site in Hungary. The morphology of the Vertesszollos occipital is even more puzzling than that of the Heidelberg jaw. David Pilbeam wrote in 1972: "The occipital bone does not resemble that of H. erectus, or even archaic man, but instead that of earliest modern man. Such forms are dated elsewhere as no older than 100,000 years." Pilbeam believed the Vertesszollos occipital to be approximately the same age as the Heidelberg jaw, between 250,000 and 450,000 years old. If the Vertesszollos occipital is modern m form, it helps confirm the genuineness of anatomically modern human skeletal remains of similar age found in England at Ipswich and Galley Hill (Chapter 7).

Returning to the Heidelberg jaw, we note that the circumstances of discovery were less than perfect. If an anatomically modern human jaw had been found by a workman in the same sand pit, it would have been subjected to merciless criticism and judged recent. After all, no scientists were present at the moment of discovery. But the Heidelberg jaw, because it fits, however imperfectly, within the bounds of evolutionary expectations, has been granted a dispensation.





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