The taxonomic status of European Plio-Pleistocene badgers is currently uncertain, due to the relative scarcity of their fossil remains. Here we describe craniodental remains from the Iberian locality of Vallparadís, indicating that the extant European badger (Meles meles) was distributed throughout Europe during the late Villafranchian. On the basis of morphological and morphometrical comparisons, we attribute the studied specimens, together with other late Villafranchian and Epivillafranchian badgers from Europe, to M. meles atavus, thereby considering that M. hollitzeri and M. dimitrius (in part) are subjective junior synonyms of the former. Only the early to middle Villafranchian M. thorali can be considered a distinct species, with M. iberica and M. dimitrius (in part) being subjective junior synonyms of this other species. It is concluded that extant European badger species must have diverged from Asian badgers before the top of the Olduvai subchron. Available molecular and paleontological data are consistent with an Asian origin of the Meles lineage, and with M. thorali being the ancestral species that dispersed into Europe attaining a wholly Palearctic distribution by the early Villafranchian. Later, before the top of the Olduvai subchron, M. thorali might have given rise to both the European and Asian badger lineages through a vicariance process prompted by paleoclimatic changes.
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