The growth pattern of Neandertals, reconstructed from a juvenile skeleton from El Sidrón (Spain)
The ontogeny of different parts of the Neandertal skeleton has been derived from isolated bones and fragments. Rosas et al. present a more complete skeleton of a Neandertal child, aged 7 to 8 years, from a 49,000-year-old site in northern Spain. The skeleton preserves dental, cranial, and postcranial material, allowing the assessment of dental and skeletal maturation with age. Most of the elements indicate an overall growth rate similar to that of modern human children. The main difference between Neandertals and modern humans is in the vertebral column. Also, several features indicate ongoing brain growth. The pattern of vertebral maturation and extended brain growth might reflect the broad Neandertal body form and physiology, rather than a fundamental difference in the overall pace of growth in Neandertals.Science, this issue p. 1282Ontogenetic studies help us understand the processes of evolutionary change. Previous studies on Neandertals have focused mainly on dental development and inferred an accelerated pace of general growth. We report on a juvenile partial skeleton (El Sidrón J1) preserving cranio-dental and postcranial remains. We used dental histology to estimate the age at death to be 7.7 years. Maturation of most elements fell within the expected range of modern humans at this age. The exceptions were the atlas and mid-thoracic vertebrae, which remained at the 5- to 6-year stage of development. Furthermore, endocranial features suggest that brain growth was not yet completed. The vertebral maturation pattern and extended brain growth most likely reflect Neandertal physiology and ontogenetic energy constraints rather than any fundamental difference in the overall pace of growth in this extinct human.