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The Altamura Man
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The cave of Lamalunga and the remains of the Altamura Man.

The human remains are located at the end of a cave’s narrow tunnel in the quarter of Lamalunga. They rest in the corner of a small cavity situated between the ground and the back wall which is formed by a sturdy stalactite curtain. The skeleton’s elements are spread over a long and narrow area surrounded by column-like calcium formations. They appear in part engulfed by the concretions and partly free but, in any case, they are coated with a calcareous layer of variable thickness which often resembles a coral formation. The skull rests on its crown and is partially inclined to the left. Above, at the level of the maxilla, both of its sides are in contact with a stalactite. Such formation splits just before touching the cranium, moving to the left to the frontal bone, covering the cheek bone and the entire area behind it; on the right, the stalactite formation covers part of the maxilla leaving the upper part of the cheek bone’s arch visible. Therefore, a good portion of the face, the orbits and, on the right side, part of the skull and more than half of the crown remain clearly visible. The cranium appears locked in concretion in the points where the stalactite formation touches it, while where its surface seems clear, a calcareous layer is, nevertheless, present. The jaw bone and various elements of the postcranial skeleton rest in front of the skull. Because of the concretion, not all of them are readily recognizable, but they include: the humeri, one ulna, one radius, the iliac bones, the femurs, the tibias and the fibulas. A few ribs, at least one vertebra and a carpal element are also discernible.
The totality of the assessable elements, such as the general sturdiness of the skeleton, the shape of the rather deep and narrow iliac pit, the profile of the iliac crest and the degree of dental wear indicate that we are in the presence of an adult male. The Altamura skeletal components do not appear in anatomical sequence. Nevertheless, the placement of some of them, such as the femur, the right tibia and fibula, the left tibia and fibula, the ulna and the radius, the position of the jaw bone with respect to the cranium, as well as the fragments of the pelvis indicate that the body is a unit, in the posture assumed right after death; and that the reduction to a skeleton happened there where the remains are now. The present position of the remains was caused by the settling of the single elements and by the action of low levels of water, after the process of reduction to a skeleton but before undergoing the process of concretion.

The Altamura Man in the context of human evolution

The recent awesome discovery of the hominids of Dmanisi, in Georgia, has completely altered the sequence of events presumed to be at the roots of the population of Europe. The remains of Dmanisi, in fact, date to more than 1.7 million years ago and represent the oldest evidence of the presence of man outside the African continent and at threshold of Europe. Morphologically, they resemble very ancient African hominids such as Homo ergaster or Homo habilis. It is not yet clear if the beginning of the population of Europe could be attributed to these human species or to their later descendants. It is likely that, in time, several migratory flows followed one another into Europe, aided by favourable climatic conditions and major civilizing achievements like the ability to control fire. Maybe, the roots of a truly European evolutionary line must be searched among more recent findings, dating from 800,000 to 1,000,000 years ago, such as the skull crown from Ceprano, in Lazio, or the remains from Atapuerca-Gran Dolina, Spain. The line from which, through Homo Heidelbergensis, (from the Mauer’s jaw bone, found near Heidelberg in Germany), the Neanderthal population of Europe originated. The first settlers of Europe encountered geographical and weather conditions that were different from those in which their African ancestors had evolved. Such conditions are at the origin of the local physical differentiation which was already evident in 300,000 year old European remains (for example in Atapuerca, Spain). The evolutionary line, which reached its full expression during the Wurm pleniglacial period and led to the appearance of the Neanderthal man, originates from this kind of remains. The terminal stages of this evolutionary line are well known, thanks to the availability of numerous finds dateable to 125,000 to 40,000 years ago. In Italy, the finds from Saccopastore and from Mount Circeo are worthy of mention. The Neanderthal man was characterized by a rather sturdy skeletal structure: the skull was long and low and it was distinguished by a bulging region in the back. It featured prominent eyebrow bones and a peculiarly shaped occipital region. The face was wide, prominent in the median position and had flat cheek bones. The cranium’s capacity was high, (1500 cm³, 91.5 in³), on average higher than that of today’s Europeans. Their height varied from short to average (155 to 165 cm, 60 to 64 in). The Neanderthal people lived in Europe and the Near East until about 40,000 to 35,000 years ago. After that time, they seem to have disappeared rather abruptly. They were replaced by people who were morphologically and culturally different and are considered modern (Homo sapiens sapiens); they are identified by the name of Cro-Magnon, from the French Dordogne site where the remains of this species where discovered for the first time. In Apulia, these new people are well represented by diverse and important finds such as those from Parabita, Paglicci (Rignano Garganico) and Santa Maria of Agnano (Ostini). Therefore, the Altamura remains, in the context of human evolution, must be attributed to a phase of the population of Europe dating from 300,000 to 50,000 years ago, in which the Neanderthal cycle can be included. The general shape of the skull, the clear presence of truly Neanderthal-like progressive characteristics in the jaw bone and in the maxilla - cheek bones complex, together with less advanced morphological elements of the neural part of the cranium, specifically the base and the occipital bone, allow us to place the find among the European fossils which are characterized by archaic features and by a gradual increase of Neanderthal-like traits.
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