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800,000-Year-Old “Boy of Gran Dolina” Was Probably a Girl

Extensive analysis of ancient teeth revealed that a male hominin who lived approximately 800,000 years ago was probably a female. Ancient remains were discovered in the 1960s when a railway line was being constructed in the Atapuerca Mountains in the northern part of Spain.

Two skeletons belonging to the Homo antecessor species were unearthed in level TD6 at Gran Dolina – two young males known as “H1” and the famous “H3” individual called the “Boy of Gran Dolina”. The remains were dated all the way back to between 850,000 and 780,000 years ago.

But now, based on new research conducted by the Dental Anthropology group of the National Centre for Research on Human Evolution (CENIEH), one of those individuals was misidentified. They analyzed the canine teeth belonging to both individuals and while the tests revealed that “H1” was a young male, they were surprised to learn that “H3” was “probably a female”. This means that the “Boy of Gran Dolina” was more than likely the “Girl of Gran Dolina”.

Remains found at Gran Dolina.

How could they possibly mistake a female for a male? It’s actually very possible since the individual had not yet reached adolescence which makes it more difficult to determine its sex. According to the study, the girl was between the ages of 9 and 11 when she passed away.

Dr. Cecilia García-Campos who led the research noted, “This individual is represented by a partial face and a fragment of the frontal bone, although typically this appears in photographs together with a mandible found in 2003 which, curiously, is considered very likely to be of female sex.”

José María Bermúdez de Castro, who is the Paleobiology Program Coordinator at the CENIEH and the co-director of the Atapuerca sites, explained their study in further detail, “To date, we only knew the sex of one tooth fragment, from which enamel proteins were obtained. But this study conducted by our Group now opens up a new and highly reliable way to estimate sex through a non-destructive method.” This new method is as much as 92.3% accurate. (Pictures of the teeth and an image of what the girl may have looked like when she was alive can be viewed here.)

Reconstruction of the Boy of Gran Dolina’s cranium.

Not much information is known about the young girl’s life before she passed away, although the experts did find one deeply disturbing detail. The analysis of the remains found in level TD6 at Gran Dolina revealed that the individuals were victims of cannibalism which may have occurred after a deadly confrontation between enemy groups.

The study was published in the Journal of Anthropological Sciences where it can be read in full.

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Jocelyne LeBlanc works full time as a writer and is also an author with two books currently published. She has written articles for several online websites, and had an article published in a Canadian magazine on the most haunted locations in Atlantic Canada. She has a fascination with the paranormal and ghost stories, especially those that included haunted houses. In her spare time, she loves reading, watching movies, making crafts, and watching hockey.