Growing Up Neanderthal

By Mark Barna | September 21, 2017 2:00 pm
The remains of a Neanderthal boy who died 49,000 years ago is revealing information about the skeletal and physiological growth of our instinct cousins. (Credit: Paleoanthropology Group MNCN-CSIC)

The remains of a Neanderthal boy who died 49,000 years ago is revealing information about the skeletal and physiological growth of our distant cousins. (Credit: Paleoanthropology Group MNCN-CSIC)

Though his life was short — he never reached the age of 8 — his fossil remains could have far-reaching influence in hominin research.

A paper to be published Friday in Science reveals the discovery of the well-preserved skeleton of a Neanderthal boy who lived in Spain 49,000 years ago. The researchers discuss the fits and starts of adolescent growth for our biological cousins, leading to insights into the evolutionary development of Homo sapiens.

Dental evidence reveals that the boy was about seven and a half years old. His brain was 87 percent the size of a Neanderthal adult’s. At that same age, modern humans have a brain that is 95 percent the size of a human adult’s, indicating that the Neanderthal juvenile brain takes a longer time to reach size maturity.

In addition, the boy’s spine grew slower than that of a modern human, who have comparable development by age 5 or 6.

Even so, the fossil reveals plenty of overlap in body development with juvenile humans. “The general growth pattern was quite similar to our growth pattern,” says Antonio Rosas, chairman of the Paleoanthropology Group at Museo Nacional de Cienceas Naturales in Madrid, Spain, and coauthor of the paper. “We inherited this growth pattern from a common ancestor.”

“We thought our way of growing was very unique for our species,” he continued, “but we realize now that this particular growth pattern is shared by different species.”

A Formidable Frame

Neanderthals, who died out 40,000 years ago, and Homo sapiens shared a common ancestor before taking separate evolutionary paths. Both are large brained (in fact, Neanderthals had a larger cranial capacity), but body form is quite different, with our cousins having a more robust skeletal frame.

The longer period of brain and spine development in Neanderthals is due to their large body and physiology, Rosas says. The extended time should not be construed as a fundamental difference in growth pattern to that of modern humans.

The boy was found in El Sidrón, a complex cave system in Asturias, Spain, that has given up the remains of seven adults and six children, all within the same Neanderthal group. Many appear to be kin, the paper says. Ancient DNA samples suggest the boy might have had an infant sibling. Both could be offspring of a young adult female also found in the cave.

A skeletal examination suggests that the boy was 3 feet, 6 inches tall and weighed about 57 pounds — a formidable frame. He was generally healthy, Rosas says, though he endured a period of stunted growth, which can happen from deficiencies in nutrition. “He was starting to do daily activities,” Rosas says.

And then he died. “No evidence of trauma or disease,” Rosas says. “Cause of death is unknown.”

The researchers plan to also examine other remains of Neanderthal children in El Sidrón. “This will be the first step to get a bigger picture of the life cycle of Neanderthals,” Rosas says.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: human origins
  • Mark Tiffany

    “instinct cousins” auto correct strikes again.

  • Sharp

    brain was 87 percent the size of a Neanderthal adult’s. At that same age, modern humans have a brain that is 95 percent the size of a human adult’s, indicating that the Neanderthal juvenile brain takes a longer time to reach size maturity.
    In addition, the boy’s spine grew slower than that of a modern human, who have comparable development by age 5 or 6.

    Not really a unforeseen finding. H Sapiens with Neanderthal or Denisovan DNA have slower development times, and attendant slightly higher base IQ and slightly higher numbers of very high IQ outliers

    Rather than thinking of Neanderthal as inferior we need to think of them as contemporary with some advantages and disadvantages. They likely had some slower growth patterns (and longer adolescence is what we see as hominids evolve, especially as hey evolve brain power) , larger brain size.

    But they may have had slightly to moderate less weather adaptability. Likely they could not run as fast or as long. The later alone would have been very dangerous in hunter gatherer habitat conflict with HSapiens. If you can run even a bit faster and longer you can almost always choose your battles, advance on opponent/s when you have numerical or weapons ready advantage, but successfully retreat when you do not.

    We know from hips , leg bones, likely mass distribution that it is almost certain Neanderthals could not run as fast, or as long as HS.

    So certain aspect of fitness could have been derived from small addition of Neanderthal, and that could include slower but better brain development in hybrid, ie longer childhood, especially the problem of the wider birth canal/pelvic structure needed for large heads vs pelvic geometry for running ability.

    HSapiens with the right Neanderthal or Denisovan input could then have outcompeted those HSapiens without

    • MMA_Miami Rocks

      interesting read. thanks.

  • TLongmire

    A little insight into that information could lead to unflattering truths of our past. It would however be interesting to know whether the Neanderthals chose not to reproduce with Africans or if it was merely a proximity issue.

    • lindsncal


    • StanChaz

      Ah, the man is searching for insight, or so he says.
      Dear seeker: the truth is that all men are brothers
      …even racists.
      But it would be interesting to discover whether their unflattering traits of racism are made worse by the fact that so few people want to be in their proximity, and/or reproduce with them.
      Thank God.

      • Foxtrot Uniform

        Only from a religious and societal point of view are men brothers, not necessarily from a racial or genetic point of view. As for racism, it is within the makeup of all living creatures, including plants, to exhibit racism in one form or another. To deny this, is to deny reality and makes one a liar, as well. Racism is not necessarily about burning crosses or punching “polar bears” in the streets. That reprehensible behavior is fueled by those behind the scenes, who like to channel others into violence. Those mindless mobs in the streets are the useful dupes who are easily manipulated for political purposes, which the mainstream media and the present established order of politicians aid and abet by their excuses and encouragement.

        Regarding your curiosity as to whether people would reproduce with racists, the answer depends on your definition of racism and whether that definition applies to any particular person. Since all creatures are racists in various forms and degrees, then the chances of marrying a racist would be 100%, and thank God for that, as life would be miserable if one had no right to freely choose with whom one associates or breeds.
        You see, StanChaz, the dirty little secret is that racism isn’t the culprit; it’s those who manipulate that innate characteristic of life forms toward their evil ends who are the culprits and to blame, as mentioned earlier. These culprits would be the Barack Hussein Obamas, Al Sharptons, Jesse Jacksons of the world, and many other political and prominent leaders of that class and racial warfare bent, along with various political front groups, who rush to incite riots in our cities and inflame the passions of some groups and pit them against other groups. And that, sir, is pure, naked evil, and thank God more and more people are wising up to it, which is why President Trump is in the White House.

        • moderatelymoderate

          You don’t believe that all humans have the same ancestors, hominids?

    • Foxtrot Uniform

      Most likely they chose not to miscegenate with other species. That lapse in racial integrity came later through misguided social engineering and other factors detrimental to the survival of racial sub-groups within the human race. It’s arguable whether interbreeding and producing hybrids of various kinds is a genetic improvement, as observed in plants and in breeding dogs. Of course, any discussion of race and genetics is subject to the Orwellian thought police rushing to call you names and/or shut you up, but, that is not honest inquiry, nor is it healthy. Moreover, it’s dangerous to allow simple-minded, easily indoctrinated, self-righteous hypocrites, who cannot objectively think outside their comfort zones of PC, to dictate the terms and course of any discussion, let alone any public policies that affect your freedom of association, freedom of speech, and freedom think as you choose.

      • TLongmire

        Not to glorify/justify any of our base instincts in the present but 50000 years ago alpha males got what they wanted when they wanted by force and intimidation. My gut says that most if not all of the Neanderthal blood some of us have is from long lived Neanderthal males taking the best human females from the human groups(most were young but vigorous) they “conquered”. Humans won out because they reproduced more quickly not because they were more clever. In our modern times there is something to be said of hybrid vigor but with out intelligent guidance it fizzles out and lowers our overall fitness.

        • moderatelymoderate

          Your gut needs help. It ‘feels’ only violence, not mutual accommodation of small bands for protection against predators etc, adoption when parents died, etc. Also, Neanderthals were better adapted to cold, so when ice ages ended, they lost that advantage, It’s not a coincidence that the highest percentage of Neanderthal ancestry is in the Alps.

          • TLongmire

            Well I have had a vicious case of a stomach flu the past few days so you are correct on that point. I myself am not a violent person nor do I agree with most of the actual traits that justify us as a species. I can however set my prejudices aside and assume the perspective of a primal being in a purely survival driven environment and compassion does not resonate there. With your logic they should have higher percentages from Scandinavia thruout Siberia. But they were outbred and pushed to hostile mountainous environments until that too betrayed them.

          • Harry Alexander

            The successful utopia was the Indus civilization democracy 2500 BC to 1500 BC in Mohajadero and Harappa with no evidence of Royalism. Located around modern day Pakistan. The still thriving pagan or Hinduism Tradition in India is probably descended from shivitism in the Indus River region

      • moderatelymoderate

        They weren’t different species.

    • moderatelymoderate

      What do you mean by ‘Africans’? If it means ‘descended from those living in Africa’ then as every human is descended from African hominids, we all are Africans. Clusters of people with different skin pigmentation developed based on their distance from the equator. Those furthest from the equator had better survival rates if they had lighter skin because vitamin D absorption was more critical than was the chance of skin cancer. Those in the tropics survived better with darker skin because in those areas skin cancer was more of an issue than was vitamin D absorption.



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