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How Neanderthal molar teeth grew


Growth and development are both fundamental components of demographic structure and life history strategy. Together with information about developmental timing they ultimately contribute to a better understanding of Neanderthal extinction. Primate molar tooth development tracks the pace of life history evolution most closely1,2, and tooth histology reveals a record of birth as well as the timing of crown and root growth. High-resolution micro-computed tomography now allows us to image complex structures and uncover subtle differences in adult tooth morphology that are determined early in embryonic development3. Here we show that the timing of molar crown and root completion in Neanderthals matches those known for modern humans but that a more complex enamel–dentine junction morphology and a late peak in root extension rate sets them apart. Previous predictions about Neanderthal growth, based only on anterior tooth surfaces4,5, were necessarily speculative. These data are the first on internal molar microstructure; they firmly place key Neanderthal life history variables within those known for modern humans.

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Figure 1: SR-μCT-based three-dimensional virtual reconstruction of deciduous and permanent Neanderthal molars from La Chaise.
Figure 2: Graphs of deciduous second molar enamel formation rates for the Neanderthal and three typical modern human deciduous molars.
Figure 3: Graphs of daily occlusal enamel formation rates in the permanent Neanderthal M1 and in modern human molars.
Figure 4: Growth curves for roots of M1 for 20 modern humans (by sex) and the Neanderthal M1.
Figure 5: SR-μCT-based three-dimensional visualization of the differences in root extension rate.


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We thank A. Bravin, C. Nemoz and P. Tafforeau for collaboration at the ESRF beamline ID17; the Centre de Microtomographie (CdMT) at the University of Poitiers; the Department of Physics at the University of Bologna; and P. Bayle, A. Bergeret, P. Sardini, V. Volpato and P. Walton for technical assistance. The research was supported by the French CNRS, the EU TNT Project (to R.M.), the Région Poitou-Charentes (to A.M.), and The Leverhulme Trust and The Royal Society (to C.D.).

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Macchiarelli, R., Bondioli, L., Debénath, A. et al. How Neanderthal molar teeth grew. Nature 444, 748–751 (2006).

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