NEANDERTHAL BOY’S SKELETON REVEALS THEY GREW MUCH LIKE MODERN HUMANS
Neanderthals’ offspring developed in a very similar way to our own, new research has shown – with the differences in rates of development thought to account for the physical differences between the two species.
A team led by Antonio Rosas at the Spanish National Research Council studied a male Neanderthal child who died aged around eight years old, and whose remains were discovered in the El Sidrón cave in Piloña, Spain in 1994. At the time of his death, he was 111cm tall and weighed 26kg. The Spanish team found that the child had developed to almost exactly the same degree you’d expect to see in an eight-year- old male child today, with two key differences.
First, his brain cavity had only reached 87.5 per cent of its adult size, compared to a modern human child where the brain cavity would already have reached its full size. It’s thought this slightly slower rate of brain development enabled Neanderthals to grow larger.
“Developing a large brain involves significant energy expenditure and, consequently, this hinders the growth of other parts of the body,” said Rosas. “In Homo sapiens, the development of the brain during childhood has a high energetic cost and, as a result, the development of the rest of the body slows down.”
Second, the thorax area of the skeleton appears to have more developed more slowly. The Neanderthal specimen’s thorax resembled that of a five- or six-year- old human child, with the cartilaginous joints of the middle thoracic vertebrae and the topmost vertebrae yet to fuse.
“The delay of this fusion in the vertebral column may indicate that Neanderthals had a decoupling of certain aspects in the transition from infancy to the juvenile phase. Although the implications are unknown, this feature could be related to the characteristic enlarged shape of the Neanderthal torso, or slower brain growth,” said Rosas.
LEFT: Spain’s El Sidrón caves contain Neanderthal fossils and tools, which are of great interest to researchers
ABOVE: Skeleton of the Neanderthal boy