Neanderthals matured faster, died younger: Study

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

WASHINGTON - Neanderthals were a live fast, die young species, according to a study from Harvard University.

They reached full maturity faster than humans do today, according to analysis of teeth from 11 Neanderthal and early human fossils.

“We know from other studies of dental and cranial development that australopithecenes (early hominids from Africa) and Homo erectus did not show long or slow developmental periods like our own,” Discovery News quoted Tanya Smith as saying.

In one case, the team found that a juvenile Neanderthal was determined to be only three years old when it died; as opposed to age four or five as had previously been suspected.

The team also discovered that anatomically modern human groups that left Africa some 100,000 years ago had a longer childhood. All other primates have shorter gestation, faster childhood maturation, younger age at first reproduction, and a shorter overall lifespan.

Neanderthals had large brains, as well as large bodies. Without much time for learning, however, those big brains might not have been much of a match for our own impressively large-brained species.

Some experts believe that slowing down childhood “may have allowed for conservation of energy, and this may have accompanied decreased mortality rates and/or more favorable environmental conditions.”

Erik Trinkaus, a Neanderthal expert who is a professor of physical anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, believes that the modern humans who came from Africa had no real edge over Neanderthals when they first spread across Eurasia.

“Archaic humans remained across the more northern areas, and even displaced the modern humans in Southwest Asia for an additional 50,000 to 70,000 years,” Trinkaus said.

“It argues for very little adaptive advantage on the part of these modern humans.”

Smith and her team, however, hint that forthcoming new studies reveal genetic and brain differences that existed between Neanderthals and members of our species, further heating up the scientific debate.

The findings are detailed in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. (ANI)

Filed under: Science and Technology

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