Kent's Cavern report on the way?25 Dec 2006
I thought I'd link to this article from This Is South Devon. There aren't any real new details, but it sounds like there may be a report on Kent's Cavern soon:
KENTS CAVERN JAWBONE COULD BE EVEN MORE SIGNIFICANT THAN FIRST THOUGHT
Results of tests on a jawbone excavated from Torquay's Kents Cavern are being eagerly awaited to see if the piece is Britain's first example of Neanderthal remains.
The piece has been analysed by the University of Hull's Centre for Medical Engineering and Technology and all that is awaited now is the findings of a detailed CT scan.
The possibility they're hyping is that KC 4 might be a Neandertal:
The research was initiated when Dr Roger Jacobi and Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum obtained new radio-carbon dates for animal bones found in cave sediments directly above and below where the jaw fragment was found at Kents Cavern.
These indicated that the layer in which the maxilla was found dates to between 37,000 and 40,000 years ago, and, if the jawbone fragment is a similar age, it would be even more significant than first thought.
If the jaw proves to be Neanderthal, then Kents Cavern will not only be the only place in Britain where there is direct evidence that Neanderthals once lived, but also it would confirm that Neanderthals spread across Europe and reached Britain far earlier than is currently thought.
I guess if the date is actually 37,000 or earlier, you have to lean toward Neandertal. The specimen is nondiagnostic, and that date would make it earlier than the current earliest modern Europeans (who are from Romania, a lot farther east than Britain). And metrically it is within the range of Neandertals, as I mentioned:
The teeth are highly worn, and their mesiodistal measurements are therefore suspect due to interproximal wear. Even so, they are not outside the range of other Neandertal specimens. The more accurate buccolingual measurements are at the small end of the Neandertal range but not outside it; two specimens from Hortus match the canine and premolar measurements, as does Saccopastore 2. The M1 measurements are the same as those for Spy 1; the B-L breadth of 11.6 is typical for later Neandertals, matching or exceeding specimens from Hortus, Arcy-sur-Cure, Spy, Engis, and La Quina. The molar is not taurodont; and considering that all the teeth are worn essentially flat without occlusal relief, there is unlikely to be any morphological diagnosis based on the dentition.
Scanning is fun and all, but I really doubt that an internal scan is going to reveal anything diagnostic about the specimen (i.e., outside the range of one or the other possibility). And based on the last couple of years of papers, I would say that finding a modern mtDNA sequence would essentially be a negative result: nobody seems to be willing to say that the presence of a modern sequence can be distinguished from contamination.
So, I suppose it will be a Neandertal -- the first known from Britain. I hope the Torquay Museum puts on an exhibit about how hard it is to tell Neandertals from modern humans -- that would be interesting!