Structural organization and tooth development in a Homo aff. erectus juvenile mandible from the Early Pleistocene site of Garba IV at Melka Kunture, Ethiopian highlands.
Here we present data concerning the pattern of dental development derived from the microcomputed tomography (microCT) study of a recently discovered immature hominin mandible with a mixed dentition recovered from the TD6 level of the Gran Dolina Lower Pleistocene cave site in Sierra de Atapuerca, northern Spain. These data confirm our previous results that nearly 1 million years ago at least one European hominin species had a fully modern pattern of dental development with a clear slowdown in the development of the molar field regarding the anterior dental field. Furthermore, using available information about enamel formation times and root extension rates in chimpanzees, early hominins, and modern humans, we have estimated that the formation time of the upper and lower first molars of individual 5 (H5) from TD6, which had just erupted at the time of the death of this individual, ranges between 5.3 and 6.6 y. Therefore, the eruption time of the first permanent molars (M1) in the TD6 hominins was within the range of variation of modern human populations. Because the time of M1 eruption in primates is a robust marker of life history, we suggest, as a working hypothesis, that these hominins had a prolonged childhood in the range of the variation of modern humans. If this hypothesis is true, it implies that the appearance in Homo of this important developmental biological feature and an associated increase in brain size preceded the development of the neocortical areas leading to the cognitive capabilities that are thought to be exclusive to Homo sapiens.