Brain development is similar in Neanderthals and modern humans
While the braincase of adult Neanderthals had a similar volume to that of modern humans from the same period, differences in endocranial shape suggest that brain morphology differed between modern humans and Neanderthals. When and how these differences arose during evolution and development is a topic of ongoing research, with potential implications for species-specific differences in brain and cognitive development, and in life history [1,2]. Earlier research suggested that Neanderthals followed an ancestral mode of brain development, similar to that of our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees [2–4]. Modern humans, by contrast, were suggested to follow a uniquely derived mode of brain development just after birth, giving rise to the characteristically globular shape of the adult human brain case [2,4,5]. Here, we re-examine this hypothesis using an extended sample of Neanderthal infants. We document endocranial development during the decisive first two years of postnatal life. The new data indicate that Neanderthals followed largely similar modes of endocranial development to modern humans. These findings challenge the notion that human brain and cognitive development after birth is uniquely derived [2,4].