Mala Balanica

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43.33, 22.08
Homo, Homo heidelbergensis

In 2006, remains of Homo heidelbergensis were discovered in Mala Balanica. It was a hemi-mandible, named BH-1. Originally, the researchers were unable to assign it to a specific hominin species. The CT scanning was conducted to create a 3D image of the mandible, while the U-series method of radiometric dating was originally used to determine the jaw's age. Due to the limitation of the process, and some unusual readings, it was tentatively dated to 113,000+72,000-43,000 years, as an older specimen was never discovered in this part of Europe. This was set as the minimum age.

A 2013 survey which included electron spin resonance combined with uranium series isotopic analysis, and infrared/post-infrared luminescence dating, provided a minimum age between 397,000 and 525,000 years. Measurements have been conducted by the University of Bordeaux in France, and Université du Québec à Montréal in Canada. Though some results, especially of the sediments where the mandible was discovered, showed results of older periods, up to 602,000 years old (582,000 in sediments above the mandible), the researchers concluded from other facts and circumstances that this is probably not the case, settling on the lower range. The remains are now fully assigned to Homo heidelbergensis, which was later corroborated by the detailed dental survey.

Even the lower range places the Mala Balanica individual among the oldest hominin fossils in Europe. Its older estimate overlaps with Sima de los Huesos in Spain (600,000 BP± 60,000) and is slightly younger than Mauer in Germany (609,000 BP± 40,000). The younger minimum age limit overlaps with Arago in France (435,000 BP± 85,000) and Visogliano in Italy (350,000–500,000). It is somewhat older than Ceprano (353,000 BP± 4,000), also in Italy. As for the surrounding region, there are only two other Middle Pleistocene specimens, Petralona and Apidima, both in Greece, but both are notably younger.

Except for the Visogliano remains, which are identified as Homo erectus, all other human remains are currently identified as Homo heidelbergensis. The Heidelberg man is considered a chronospecies of Neanderthals, at least in the European context. However, the contemporary Middle Pleistocene hominin population in Western Europe shows an unequal presence of Neanderthal traits. While in the Sima de los Huesos Neanderthal morphology is more pronounced, in the eastern Arago and Ceprano localities not so much. Robin Dennell suggested that Neanderthals were evolving in Western Europe during glacial isolation periods, but in warmer periods more primitive species which remained in the Balkans, and south generally, would repopulate the west, reasserting their traits. For example, Mala Balanica's mandible shows absolutely no Neanderthal morphological traits. Hence the discrepancy between the common traits among the contemporary populations as Homo heidelbergensis constantly "diluted" Homo neanderthalensis in its beginnings. The Balkans remained connected to Southwest Asia even during the ice age and served as a transit route. Much later, fully evolved Neanderthals would migrate to the East.


Age MinAge Max
BH-1Hemi Mandible