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May, H., Sarig, R., Pokhojaev, A., Fornai, C., Martinón-Torres, M., de Castro, J.M.B., Weber, G.W., Zaidner, Y., Hershkovitz, I., 2021. Response to comment on “A middle pleistocene homo from Nesher Ramla, Israel”. Science 374.
Marom and Rak claim, on the basis of a few mandibular features, that the Nesher Ramla (NR) Homo is a Neanderthal. Their comments lack substance and contribute little to the debate surrounding the evolution of Middle Pleistocene Homo. Limitations and preconceptions in their study prevented them from achieving resolution beyond a dichotomous interpretation of the NR as either a Neanderthal or a modern human.
In Hershkovitz et al. (1), the NR Homo was recognized as part of a Middle Pleistocene (MP) paleodeme together with other Levantine fossils exhibiting affine morphology (1). Although this Homo group presents some Neanderthal-like mandibular and dental characteristics, it differs substantially from Neanderthals in several important features, manifested mainly in the archaic morphology of the parietal (reflected in its flatness and thickness, unique endocranial surface topography, shape, size, and vessel imprints) and the mandible shapes, as extensively described and analyzed in the supplementary materials of our paper (1). In contrast to the claim implied by Marom and Rak (2), we did not interpret the NR fossils as a new species. The term paleodeme (3) is quite conservative, and “is both appropriate and necessary in studies of the hominin fossil record at various levels” (p. 204), thus reflecting our cautious rather than “radical” approach. Whether the NR Homoshould be considered an example of H. neanderthalensis depends entirely on how this Homo group is defined. Similar to Marom and Rak, we amply acknowledged the morphological similarities of the NR mandible to Neanderthal mandibles. However, unlike them, we maintain that the archaic traits observed in the NR parietal and mandible account for important evolutionary differences from classic Neanderthals, which cannot be disregarded. In fact, we suggested that the NR Homo might have been a predecessor along the Neanderthal lineage (Fig. 1).