Neanderthal boy's skeleton reveals they grew much like modern kids

Source:Xinhua Published: 2017/9/23 7:48:42

A new analysis of a well-preserved Neanderthal boy's skeleton revealed that children of this now extinct human relative developed much in the same way as modern kids would, according to a study published in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

The protagonist of this study was discovered among the remains of seven adults, three teenagers and three younger children in the 49,000-year-old El Sidron cave in northern Spain.

The specimen, dubbed El Sidron J1, exhibits an exceptionally well-preserved mix of baby and adult teeth, leading researchers to estimate that the child died at 7.7 years of age, said the study.

Meanwhile, the nearly complete skeleton allowed researchers to determine that the child's sex was male and that he weighed 26 kilograms and measured 111 centimeters when he died.

The information was enough for the researchers to answer a basic question: "How did Neanderthals grow and mature in comparison with modern humans?"

"The comparison between chronological age and this biological radius indicate that there was no noticeable difference," study co-author Luis Rios, member of the Paleoanthropology Group at Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Spain, told reporters during a conference call.

The similarity "probably means that we inherit this growth pattern," Antonio Rosas, chairman of the Paleoanthropology Group at Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, who led the study, said at the conference call.

"That conclusion probably makes it look less sexy," said Rosas. "But it's really important to be aware that we share with Neanderthals features that can be considered human, and that we what we have considered unique for modern humans -- for Homo sapiens -- perhaps is not so unique."

Neanderthals, named for the Neandertal region of Germany, were a separate species from modern human that thrived in Europe between 30,000 and 130,000 years ago.

Neanderthal adults are known to have a bigger brain volume of 1,520 cubic centimeters, while that of modern adult man is 1,195 cubic centimeters.

That of the Neanderthal child in the study had reached 1,330 cubic centimeters at the time of his death.

In other words, 87.5 percent of the total reached at eight years of age. At that age, the development of a modern-day child's brain has already been fully completed.

"We observed basically that at 7.7 years this Neanderthal juvenile presented maturity similar to modern human children of five to six years of age," Rios said. "The brain of this juvenile could still be growing."

In addition, some vertebrae had still not fused in the Neanderthal boy, yet these same vertebrae tend to fuse in modern day humans around the ages of four to six.

"Although the implications are unknown, this feature could be related to the characteristic enlarged shape of the Neanderthal torso, or slower brain growth," Rosas said.

Overall, 138 pieces, 30 of them teeth including some milk teeth, and part of the skeleton -- including some fragments of the skull from the Neanderthal boy were recovered.

The researchers were able to establish that he was right-handed and was already performing adult tasks, such as using his teeth as a third hand to handle skins and plant fibres.

In addition, they knew who his mother was, and that the child of this investigation had a younger brother in the group.

Furthermore, this child was found to have suffered from dental enamel hypoplasia when he was two or three years old.

But the team said they have no idea about the cause of the boy's death.

"There is not, as far as we can see, any evidence of trauma or disease that can explain why this individual died," Rosas said.

Posted in: DISCOVERY

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