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Neandertal kids were a lot like kids today — at least in how they grew

Skeleton from almost 8-year-old shows that growth of the child’s brain, spine lagged a bit

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9:00am, September 25, 2017
partial Neandertal skeleton

GROW UP  A Neandertal’s partial skeleton found in Spain comes from a 7.7-year-old child who grew at a rate much like that of youngsters today, scientists report. However, the ancient youngster displays relatively slow backbone and brain development in comparison with present-day kids.

A Neandertal child whose partial skeleton dates to around 49,000 years ago grew at the same pace as children do today, with a couple of exceptions. Growth of the child’s spine and brain lagged, a new study finds.

It’s unclear, though, whether developmental slowing in those parts of the body applied only to Neandertals or to Stone Age Homo sapiens as well. If so, environmental conditions at the time — which are currently hard to specify — may have reduced the pace of physical development similarly in both Homo species.   

This ancient youngster died at 7.7 years of age, say paleoanthropologist Antonio Rosas of the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid and colleagues. The scientists estimated the child’s age by counting microscopic enamel layers that accumulated daily as a molar tooth formed.

Previous excavations uncovered the child’s remains, as well as fossils of 12 other Neandertals, at a cave

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