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Early brain growth in Homo erectus and implications for cognitive ability


Humans differ from other primates in their significantly lengthened growth period. The persistence of a fetal pattern of brain growth after birth is another important feature of human development1. Here we present the results of an analysis of the 1.8-million-year-old Mojokerto child (Perning 1, Java), the only well preserved skull of a Homo erectus infant, by computed tomography. Comparison with a large series of extant humans and chimpanzees indicates that this individual was about 1 yr (0–1.5 yr) old at death and had an endocranial capacity at 72–84% of an average adult H. erectus. This pattern of relative brain growth resembles that of living apes, but differs from that seen in extant humans. It implies that major differences in the development of cognitive capabilities existed between H. erectus and anatomically modern humans.

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Figure 1: Superior view of the Mojokerto specimen (a) and three-dimensional reconstructions from axial CT scans of the anterior part of the skull (b–d).
Figure 2: The subarcuate fossa in the right temporal bone of the Mojokerto specimen (b) and in two modern specimens (a, c).
Figure 3: Endocranial volume growth as a percentage of the adult value in Mojokerto, Pan troglodytes and extant humans.


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We are grateful to the following individuals for their assistance in accessing collections and their advice and comments during the preparation of this paper: S. Anton, J. P. Bocquet-Appel, J. Braga, G. Bräuer, M. Braun, P. Darlu, M. Haas, M. von Harling, C. Hemm, J.-L. Kahn, C. Lefèvre, W. van Neer, S. Pääbo, F. Renoult, M. Richards, Ph. Rightmire, F. Schrenk, H. Sick, F. Spoor, T. Striano, J. Treil, W. Wendelen and V. Zeitoun. This research was supported by grants from CNRS and by the Max Planck Society.

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Correspondence to J.-J. Hublin.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Data 1

The Strasbourg medical school juvenile human series ordered by individual ages. The skulls were prepared by anatomists between 1872 and 1918. Calendar ages are known with a precision of one month, one week or sometimes one day. Fontanelle, tympanic plate and endocranial volumes are scored. (XLS 44 kb)

Supplementary Data 2

The Augier Paris medical school juvenile human series. The series is composed by individuals mostly collected during the second half of the XIXth century in Paris. The cranial bones were separated by the preparation. Fontanelle is scored as open (o) or closed (c). (XLS 24 kb)

Supplementary Data 3

The Spitalfields juvenile human series. The material studied comes from the crypt of Christ Church, Spitalfields, London, a series coffin-buried between 1729–1852. Fontanelle is scored as open (o) or closed (c). (XLS 19 kb)

Supplementary Data 4

The chimpanzees series ordered by dental stages. The series is taken from The Tervuren collection and the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle (Paris). Fontanelle, tympanic plate and endocranial volumes are scored. (XLS 74 kb)

Supplementary Data 5

Bayesian posterior probabilities of occurrence of the Mojokerto phenotype in the human Strasbourg series and Bayesian posterior probabilities of occurrence of the Mojokerto phenotype in the Pan troglodytes series (two Excel sheets). (XLS 311 kb)

Supplementary Figure 1

Coronal cuts 2-3 mm behind bregma in the Strasbourg series. (PPT 458 kb)

Supplementary Figure 2

Pan paniscus 84036M7 (Tervuren). Dental age : N/J1. Superior view. (PPT 436 kb)

Supplementary Legends

This file contains legends for all Supplementary Data and Figure files. (DOC 64 kb)

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Coqueugniot, H., Hublin, JJ., Veillon, F. et al. Early brain growth in Homo erectus and implications for cognitive ability. Nature 431, 299–302 (2004).

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