Sima de los Huesos (Espagne): Human talus bones from the Middle Pleistocene site

Adrián Pablos, Ignacio Martínez, Carlos Lorenzo, Ana Gracia, Nohemi Sala, Juan Luis Arsuaga

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Journal of Human Evolution : Volume 65, Issue 1, July 2013, Pages 79–92


Here we present and describe comparatively 25 talus bones from the Middle Pleistocene site of the Sima de los Huesos (SH) (Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain). These tali belong to 14 individuals (11 adult and three immature). Although variation among Middle and Late Pleistocene tali tends to be subtle, this study has identified unique morphological characteristics of the SH tali. They are vertically shorter than those of Late Pleistocene Homo sapiens, and show a shorter head and a broader lateral malleolar facet than all of the samples. Moreover, a few shared characters with Neanderthals are consistent with the hypothesis that the SH population and Neanderthals are sister groups. These shared characters are a broad lateral malleolar facet, a trochlear height intermediate between modern humans and Late Pleistocene H. sapiens, and a short middle calcaneal facet. It has been possible to propose sex assignment for the SH tali based on their size. Stature estimates based on these fossils give a mean stature of 174.4 cm for males and 161.9 cm for females, similar to that obtained based on the long bones from this same site.


Figure 1. Talus bones from the Sima de los Huesos in dorsal view. (a) Right adult tali. (b) Left adult tali. (c) Immature tali (AT-964, AT-1498 and AT-2751). The fragment of talus AT-2844 is in anterior view. Scale bar 2 cm.


Figure 3. Metric variables studied in the talus bones from the Sima de los Huesos. Views: (a) and (b) dorsal, (c) plantar, (d) anterior, (e) medial and (f) lateral. ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’ and ‘d’ modified from Bräuer (1988), ‘e’ modified from Gebo (1992) and ‘f’ modified from Appleton (1913). A = most posterior point of medial malleolar facet. B = most anterior point of lateral malleolar facet. Abbreviations as in Table SI.2. M1 = talar length. M1a = total length. M2 = total breadth. M2b = articular breadth. M3 = talar height. M3-1 = medial height. M4 = trochlear length. M5 = trochlear breadth. M5-1 = posterior trochlear breadth. M5-2 = anterior trochlear breadth. M6 = trochlear height. M7 = lateral malleolar oblique height. M7a = lateral malleolar breadth. M8 = head–neck length. M9 = length of the head. M10 = breadth of the head. M12 = length of the calcaneal posterior articular surface. M13 = breadth of the calcaneal posterior articular surface. M14 = depth of calcaneal posterior articular surface. BO30 = trochlear depth. D4 = lateral malleolar length. E1 = length of calcaneal middle articular surface. E2 = breadth of the calcaneal middle articular surface. L2 = lateral height. L13 = medial malleolar length. P24 = sulcus tali breadth. T6 = lateral malleolar height.