Neanderthals were stocky from birth
If a Neanderthal were to sit down next to us on the underground, we would probably first notice his receding forehead, prominent brow ridges and projecting, chinless face.
|Reconstruction of a Neanderthal child from the Musee National de Prehistoire |
in Les Eyzies de Tayac, France [Credit: Don Hitchcock]
The evolutionary lines of modern humans and Neanderthals diverged around 600,000 years ago. Paleoanthropologists know from bone finds that Neanderthals possessed not only a receding forehead, prominent brow ridges and projecting, chinless face, but also a different physique. They had more robust bones, a wider pelvis and shorter limbs. This may have been an evolutionary adaptation to the colder climate of Europe and Asia, as a more compact body loses less heat to the environment. However, the skeletal differences may also have arisen as a result of different lifestyles and activity patterns, because mechanical stresses affect the formation of bones.
The second specimen was an infant no more than four months old from a cave near the village of Le Moustier in the French Dordogne. “Both skeletons were exceptionally well preserved. Moreover, they come from two sites that are widely separated geographically, so they aren’t just sampling a restricted part of the Neanderthal range,” says Tim Weaver from the University of California, Davis, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
|Virtual reconstruction of the Mezmaisakya Neanderthal (a) Skeleton (b) Skull in right lateral view (Scale bars: 5cm]|
[Credit: National Academy of Sciences of the USA]
Although maternal diet and activity may have influenced the development of the neonatal skeleton, the researchers believe that genetic differences are a more likely explanation. Some findings, such as shorter limbs, are consistent with the climate hypothesis, which states that the Neanderthal body was adapted to cold, while others, such as an elongated pubic bone, are more difficult to explain but may be related to birth or gait.
The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Source: Max Planck Society [May 26, 2016]