The remains known as Homo cepranensis were found in near Ceprano in Southern Italy. According to Manzi et al., (2001) the fossil evidence is made up of an adult calveria, which was initially dated between 800 and 900 ka. In this article several explanations are explored for the classification of this sample, including possibly a member of the H. antecessor species, previously found at the Gran Dolina site, but eventually proposing that the sample represents a new species which serves as a bridge between H. ergaster/erectus, and H. heidelbergensis. The calveria was noted as having robust morphology over all, and a unique frontal region. The 2001 research argues that this unique species was likely ancestral to later European and African honinins, and cites the influx of the Acheulean group as the cause of the disappearance of the previously cited, unique morphological traits (Manzi et al., 2001.)
A review of the more recent literature reveals that a new study reexamining the absolute date range of the specimen has led to a reclassification within prehistory. According to the 2011 article by Mounier et al., new dates place the Ceprano remains in the Middle Pleistocene, somewhere between 430 and 385 ka. This represents a significant shift in time placement, and merited a reexamination of classification system. This article explores the same explanations examined by Manzi et al. (2001) and also several other articles (Bruner and Manzi, 2005; 2007), which explore Ceprano as possibly an ancestral group of H. heidelbergensis, or as the divergent mark between Neanderthals and H. sapiens. This 2011 article provides a new and unique perspective exploring all these possible classifications by comparing the Ceprano remains to a much larger number of species than ever before (including H. neanderthalensis and H. sapiens.) Overall the results of this extensive analysis identify the difficulty in classifying Ceprano, as it shares many traits common to other Mid-Pleistocene species, but also has several derived traits of later species. Overall this study advocates that the sample from Ceprano should be classified as a unique “node” within the H. heidelbergensis taxon, although it is possible that further study or new evidence could once again change the classification. The case of the Ceprano remains is a clear example of how difficult it can be to accurately classify early hominid species with limited physical evidence.
Bruner, E., Manzi, G., (2005) CT-based Description and Phyletic Evaluation of the Archaic Human Calverium from Ceprano, Italy. Anatomical Record. Part A, Discoveries in Molecular, Cellullar, and Evolutionary Biology, 285A, 643-657. (Cited from Mounier et. al, 2011)
Bruner, E., Manzi, G., (2007) Landmark-Based Shape Analysis of the Archaic Homo Calverium from Ceprano (Italy). American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 132, 355-366. (Cited from Mounier et al., 2011)
Manzi, G., Mallegni, F., Ascenzi. (2001) A Cranium for the Earliest Europeans: Phylogenetic Position of the Hominid from Ceprano Italy. PNAS 98,17, 10011-10016.
Mounier, A., Condemi, S., Manzi, G. (2011) The Stem Species of Our Species: A Place for the Archaic Human Cranium from Ceprano, Italy. PLOS, 6(4)