Toothless wonder? Paper on “oldest human fossil in Europe” temporarily removed from journal’s site

j human evolutionA paper about a high-profile human fossil has been mysteriously removed from the journal that published it just two weeks ago.

Here’s the notice for “The oldest human fossil in Europe dated to ca. 1.4 Ma at Orce (Spain),” originally published on March 5:

The publisher regrets that this article has been temporarily removed. A replacement will appear as soon as possible in which the reason for the removal of the article will be specified, or the article will be reinstated.

The full Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal can be found at http://www.elsevier.com/locate/withdrawalpolicy.

Either we’ll learn why the study was removed, or the journal will just reinstate it? This all seems a bit odd. We’ve asked the editors, and Elsevier, for more information, and will update with anything we learn.

Meanwhile, the paper was released with a great deal of fanfare. A press release (in Spanish) from IPHES ICREA, the home institution of two of the authors,  claimed that the 1.4-million-year-old fossil tooth became “the oldest human remains in Western Europe” and suggests that humans arrived in mainland Europe 200,000 years before anyone thought. The remains found at Orce, we understand, have been the source of controversy for decades.

Update, 9 p.m. Eastern, 3/21/13: Elseviertells us that the withdrawal resulted from a dispute with another team of authors who were unhappy their work wasn’t cited.

7 thoughts on “Toothless wonder? Paper on “oldest human fossil in Europe” temporarily removed from journal’s site”

  1. Maybe its something about the lithics (some of the pieces were published before several times by Josep Gibert and there was no reference at all to his jobs and articles in this JHE). Maybe its something about the absence of spatial context with the tooth, no field photos, no microspatial info, or maybe even because you cant hide a tooth during 11 years and publish it when you want. The law in Spain says that pieces from a excavation must be returned to the gobernment in few years from the digging (i think its between 2 and 5 years maximum).

    Maybe its not any of these, but these are trues also.

  2. Complete speculation: the paper was first submitted to the journal-in-which-all-scientists-dream-to-publish-before-to-die, but was rejected, maybe on the basis of sound technical arguments. Because 18 co-authors and 13 institutions were involved in the report, the paper was re-submitted without any changes to an Elsevier journal, and was eventually accepted. But some reviewers of the rejected manuscript were unhappy because their advices were badly ignored in the released paper, and then asked for retraction. The Editor, a bit annoyed with this uncomfortable situation, suggested to quarantining the stuff.
    Again, this story is completely hypothetical. I would be unable to understand the first line of any article dealing with archeopaleontology.

    1. When I read the paper published online, two things surprised me. First, that the authors claimed that the tooth was the oldest human fossil in Europe, ignoring that the finding of another tooth found in the same site –not a child tooth– had been published by Gibert et al. in 1999, and not citing that work. Secondly, that a part of one figure seemed to contain a flake already published before also by Gibert et al., without mentioning the source. I do not like speculating, but I assume that the retraction may have something to do with all that.

  3. What’s going on? The notice of Temporary Removal has disappeared from the Science Direct link to this article. Can anyone provide an update? Editors? Authors? Elsevier?

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