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Dental evidence for ontogenetic differences between modern humans and Neanderthals

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Don Reid


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Humans have an unusual life history, with an early weaning age, long childhood, late first reproduction, short interbirth intervals, and long lifespan. In contrast, great apes wean later, reproduce earlier, and have longer intervals between births. Despite 80 y of speculation, the origins of these developmental patterns in Homo sapiens remain unknown. Because they record daily growth during formation, teeth provide important insights, revealing that austral-opithecines and early Homo had more rapid ontogenies than recent humans. Dental development in later Homo species has been intensely debated, most notably the issue of whether Neanderthals and H. sapiens differ. Here we apply synchrotron virtual histology to a geographically and temporally diverse sample of Middle Paleolithic juveniles, including Neanderthals, to assess tooth formation and calculate age at death from dental microstructure. We find that most Neanderthal tooth crowns grew more rapidly than modern human teeth, resulting in significantly faster dental maturation. In contrast, Middle Paleolithic H. sapiens juveniles show greater similarity to recent humans. These findings are consistent with recent cranial and molecular evidence for subtle developmental differences between Neanderthals and H. sapiens. When compared with earlier hominin taxa, both Neanderthals and H. sapiens have extended the duration of dental development. This period of dental immaturity is particularly prolonged in modern humans.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Smith TM, Tafforeauc P, Reid DJ, Pouech J, Lazzari V, Zermeno JP, Guatelli-Steinberg D, Olejniczak AJ, Hoffman A, Radovcic J, Makaremi M, Toussaint M, Stringer C, Hublin JJ

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Year: 2010

Volume: 107

Issue: 49

Pages: 20923-20928

Print publication date: 07/12/2010

ISSN (print): 0027-8424

ISSN (electronic): 1091-6490

Publisher: National Academy of Sciences


DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1010906107


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