Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Neanderthal update Tooth growth suggests rapid maturation in a Neanderthal child
An international European research collaboration led by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology reports evidence for a rapid developmental pattern in a 100,000 year old Belgian Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis). The report, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (online edition early December), details how the team used growth lines both inside and on the surfaces of the child’s teeth to reconstruct tooth formation time and its’ age at death. Scientists found differences in the duration of tooth growth in the Neanderthal when compared to modern humans, with the former showing shorter times in most cases. This faster growth resulted in a more advanced pattern of dental development than in fossil and living members of our own species (Homo sapiens). The Scladina juvenile, which appears to be developmentally similar to a 10-12 year old human, was estimated to be in fact about 8 years old at death. This pattern of development appears to be intermediate between early members of our genus (e.g., Homo erectus) and living people, suggesting that the characteristically slow development and long childhood is a recent condition unique to our own species.