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Rapid dental development in a Middle Paleolithic belgian Neanderthal

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Don Reid


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The evolution of life history (pace of growth and reproduction) was crucial to ancient hominin adaptations. The study of dental development facilitates assessment of growth and development in fossil hominins with greater precision than other skeletal analyses. During tooth formation, biological rhythms manifest in enamel and dentine, creating a permanent record of growth rate and duration. Quantification of these internal and external incremental features yields developmental benchmarks, including ages at crown completion, tooth eruption, and root completion. Molar eruption is correlated with other aspects of life history. Recent evidence for developmental differences between modern humans and Neanderthals remains ambiguous. By measuring tooth formation in the entire dentition of a juvenile Neanderthal from Scladina, Belgium, we show that most teeth formed over a shorter time than in modern humans and that dental initiation and eruption were relatively advanced. By registering manifestations of stress across the dentition, we are able to present a precise chronology of Neanderthal dental development that differs from modern humans. At 8 years of age at death, this juvenile displays a degree of development comparable with modern human children who are several years older. We suggest that age at death in juvenile Neanderthals should not be assessed by comparison with modern human standards, particularly those derived from populations of European origin. Moreover, evidence from the Scladina juvenile and other similarly aged hominins suggests that a prolonged childhood and slow life history are unique to Homo sapiens.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Smith TM, Toussaint M, Reid DJ, Olejniczak, Hublin JJ

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Year: 2007

Volume: 104

Issue: 51

Pages: 20220-20225

ISSN (print): 0027-8424

ISSN (electronic): 1091-6490

Publisher: National Academy of Sciences


DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0707051104


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