The analysis of the dental tissues of the Boy from the Gran Dolina reveals that it was a girl

A study by the Dental Anthropology Group of the National Center for Research on Human Evolution (CENIEH) announces the first sexual estimate of two of the most emblematic fossils of the Sierra de Atapuerca (Burgos), found at level TD6 of Gran Dolina and belonging to the species Homo antecessor: the individual H1, from which the species was defined, and the individual H3, known until now as the Boy from the Gran Dolina, in reference to the title of a popular book.

This study now opens up a new, highly reliable way to estimate sex using a non-destructive method.

José María Bermúdez de Castro

The results, published in the Journal of Anthropological Sciences, show that the canines of both individuals present differences comparable to those observed between current women and men. This fact has made it possible to establish that fossil H1 was probably a male individual, while fossil H3 was probably a female individual, “that is, the Boy from the Great Dolina would actually be the Girl from the Great Dolina”, he says. Cecilia Garcia-Campos, who has led this investigation.

Until now, the human remains found at the TD6 level of Gran Dolina had been analyzed by many researchers, but it had not been possible to evaluate the sexual dimorphism of this population. This is because most of the individuals included in the Homo antecessor sample are immature individualsIn other words, they have not yet reached adolescence, which complicates their sexual estimation. To all this is added the difficulty of having small fragments of the skeleton.

“Until now, only the sex of a small tooth fragment was known, from which enamel proteins were obtained. But this study now opens up a new, highly reliable way to estimate sex using a non-destructive method“, Explain José María Bermúdez de Castro, coordinator of the CENIEH Paleobiology Program and co-director of the Atapuerca sites.


Permanent canines of H. antecessor. In the upper row, maxilla of individual H3, in the lower row, left maxillary canine of individual H1. / Cecilia García-Campos

Canines that determine sex

The estimation of sex has been achieved thanks to the analysis of the proportions of the canine dental tissues or fangs. The enamel and dentin dimensions of these teeth are sexually dimorphic traits, that is, they allow the differentiation of male and female individuals within a population.

Methodologies based on permanent canines allow identifying the sex of individuals from the age of six

For this reason, his study has been used previously to estimate sex in both forensic samples, reaching success rates of up to 92.3%, in fossil populations, as in the Neanderthal sample from Krapina (Croatia) or the town of Sima de los Huesos, also in the Sierra de Atapuerca.

Teeth offer the additional advantage of early completion of their training by allowing the sex of even immature individuals to be estimated, which is especially useful in the field of paleoanthropology. Specifically, methodologies based on permanent canines, that is, the teeth that present the highest degree of sexual dimorphism in human dentition, allow identifying the sex of individuals from six years of age, the age at which their Crown it has already been fully formed.

A death at the hands of rival groups

One of the most interesting results of this study has been to find out that the remains of individual H3 from Gran Dolina belonged to a girl between 9 and 11 years old.

The human remains found at level TD6 of Gran Dolina, including those of individual H3, show clear evidence of cannibalism

“This individual is represented by a partial face and a fragment of the frontal bone, although it is common for it to appear in the photos, in addition, together with a mandible found in 2003, which, curiously, is considered most likely female,” he explains. Garcia-Campos.

The Girl from the Gran Dolina surely had a height and body proportions similar to those of a current girl her age, although it is possible that she had developed earlier. Although not much is yet known about what his life was like more than 800,000 years ago, more is known about how his story ended.

The human remains found at level TD6 of Gran Dolina, including those of individual H3, show clear evidence of cannibalism, probably the result of a confrontation between rival groups.


García-Campos, C., et al (2021). “Indicators of sexual dimorphism in Homo antecessor permanent canines”. Journal of Anthropological Sciences, 99, pp. 1-18. doi: 10.4436 / jass.99001.

Rights: Creative Commons.

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