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Neanderthal Brains

December 15, 2010

Brain development in the first year of a baby’s life set us apart from our extinct Neanderthal relatives.


Neanderthal brains…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The first year of a baby’s life is one of the most crucial phases of cognitive development. And according to new research at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, the brain development of modern human babies during this time differs significantly from that of our extinct relatives, the neanderthals. Paleoanthropologist Phillip Gunn and his team compared imprints of human and Neanderthal brain cases.

PHILLIP GUNZ (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology):
Both species start off with having a very elongated brain with about the same cranial volume. And then within the first year of life modern humans get more globular so the cerebellum expands and the parietal lobe expands, and the cranial base flexes.

A computer simulation showed that without this brief but pivotal period of development, human brains would have ended up looking nearly identical to those of neanderthals. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.