Letters to Nature

Nature 428, 936-939 (29 April 2004) | doi:10.1038/nature02428; Received 11 December 2003; Accepted 23 February 2004

Surprisingly rapid growth in Neanderthals

Fernando V. Ramirez Rozzi1 & José Maria Bermudez de Castro2

  1. UPR 2147, Dyamique de l'Evolution Humaine, CNRS, 44, Rue de l'Amiral Mouchez, 75014 Paris, France
  2. Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (CSIC), C/ José Gutierrez Abascal 2, 28006 Madrid, Spain

Correspondence to: Fernando V. Ramirez Rozzi1 Email: ramrozzi@ivry.cnrs.fr

Life-history traits correlate closely with dental growth1, so differences in dental growth within Homo can enable us to determine how somatic development has evolved and to identify developmental shifts that warrant species-level distinctions2, 3, 4. Dental growth can be determined from the speed of enamel formation (or extension rate)5, 6. We analysed the enamel extension rate in Homo antecessor (8 teeth analysed), Homo heidelbergensis (106), Homo neanderthalensis ('Neanderthals'; 146) and Upper Palaeolithic-Mesolithic Homo sapiens (100). Here we report that Upper Palaeolithic-Mesolithic H. sapiens shared an identical dental development pattern with modern humans, but that H. antecessor and H. heidelbergensis had shorter periods of dental growth. Surprisingly, Neanderthals were characterized by having the shortest period of dental growth. Because dental growth is an excellent indicator of somatic development1, our results suggest that Neanderthals developed faster even than their immediate ancestor, H. heidelbergensis. Dental growth became longer and brain size increased from the Plio-Pleistocene in hominid evolution. Neanderthals, despite having a large brain, were characterized by a short period of development. This autapomorphy in growth is an evolutionary reversal, and points strongly to a specific distinction between H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis.

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