Did Neanderthal Children Grow Faster?


Did Neanderthal children grow up more quickly than the rest of us?

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A new study of Neanderthal teeth suggests that Neanderthal children matured faster than other humans, ScienceNOW reports on new research from a multinational team. Paleoanthropologists Tanya Smith of Harvard University and Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, along with Paul Tafforeau of the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, have been studying fossilized teeth from several Neanderthals, including eleven children, as well other non-Neanderthal fossil humans. The scientists count growth lines in the teeth to estimate how much time elapsed before such events as the eruption of adult molars.

The results indicate that Neanderthals did mature more quickly than other humans.

The results indicate that Neanderthals did mature more quickly than other humans: first molar crowns formed at two-and-a-half years (compared to three in other humans), with second molars appearing at age eight (compared with eleven in other humans). So does this mean they matured faster than us in general?

ScienceNOW quotes Arizona State University paleoanthropologist Gary Schwartz and University of Zurich neurobiologist Christoph Zollikofer, who note that differences in teeth maturation do not necessarily indicate differences in overall maturation; more studies of modern humans are needed to determine how strong the actual connection is.

How quickly Neanderthal teeth developed is an independent question from whether they were as human as “the rest of us,” of course. After all, Neanderthals had other relatively minor anatomical differences, and it remains uncertain if all of those differences are genetic or if some were environmentally induced.

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