A large study of the growth records preserved in fossil Neandertal teeth indicates that these controversial members of the Homo line, despite possessing large brains, grew to adulthood in a surprisingly short time span. Regarded by many scientists as a distinct species that lived from around 130,000 to 28,000 years ago in Europe and the Middle East, Neandertals reached physical maturity by age 15, according to a report in the April 29 Nature.
Neandertals' rapid development supports the theory that they evolved on a genetically separate pathway from Homo sapiens, say Fernando V. Ramirez Rossi of the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris and José Maria Bermudez de Castro of the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid.
The researchers used microscopes to inspect the surfaces of 360 fossil teeth, all from the front of the mouth. The teeth came from 119 individuals assigned to one of four Homo species: