The Middle Pleistocene (MIS 12) human dental remains from Fontana Ranuccio (Latium) and Visogliano (Friuli-Venezia Giulia), Italy. A comparative high resolution endostructural assessment
The penecontemporaneous Middle Pleistocene sites of Fontana Ranuccio (Latium) and Visogliano (Friuli-Venezia Giulia), set c. 450 km apart in central and northeastern Italy, respectively, have yielded some among the oldest human fossil remains testifying to a peopling phase of the Italian Peninsula broadly during the glacial MIS 12, a stage associated with one among the harshest climatic conditions in the Northern hemisphere during the entire Quaternary period. Together with the large samples from Atapuerca Sima de los Huesos, Spain, and Caune de l’Arago at Tautavel, France, the remains from Fontana Ranuccio and Visogliano are among the few mid-Middle Pleistocene dental assemblages from Western Europe available for investigating the presence of an early Neanderthal signature in their inner structure. We applied two- three-dimensional techniques of virtual imaging and geometric morphometrics to the high-resolution X-ray microtomography record of the dental remains from these two Italian sites and compared the results to the evidence from a selected number of Pleistocene and extant human specimens/samples from Europe and North Africa. Depending on their preservation quality and on the degree of occlusal wear, we comparatively assessed: (i) the crown enamel and radicular dentine thickness topographic variation of a uniquely represented lower incisor; (ii) the lateral crown tissue proportions of premolars and molars; (iii) the enamel-dentine junction, and (iv) the pulp cavity morphology of all available specimens. Our analyses reveal in both samples a Neanderthal-like inner structural signal, for some aspects also resembling the condition shown by the contemporary assemblage from Atapuerca SH, and clearly distinct from the recent human figures. This study provides additional evidence indicating that an overall Neanderthal morphological dental template was preconfigured in Western Europe at least 430 to 450 ka ago.