Neanderthal Babies Teethed Earlier
Infant Neanderthal formed teeth before birth and developed them much sooner than modern human kids
A group of researchers from Kent University’s School of Anthropology & Conservation examined the five deciduous, or milk, teeth of three Neanderthals. They specifically studied samples from the Krapina site in Croatia. These are dated to be 120,000 to 130,000 years old. They published their findings in Proceedings of the Royal Society B1.
Using state-of-the-art, non-destructive technologies, the team was able to conclude that Neanderthal infants have an accelerated dental development compared to modern human children. Modern humans have a more extended dental development in contrast. This implies that Neanderthals consumed food earlier in life.
See, teeth have a layer of enamel, or coating, over dentin and that is laid like concentric rings of bark around a tree. Prior research has shown us differences in the size of enamel before birth and after birth. Also, the gaps in the rings indicate the amount of enamel grown in a specific period, such as a day. This is known as the enamel secretion rate. These rings can be used to determine when the teeth erupted, the age of the individual at death and the amount of enamel deposited reflect nutritional status.
Analysis of the samples with synchrotron radiation computed microtomography lead the team to calculate that milk teeth erupted from the Neanderthal child’s gum between four and seven months of age. In modern humans, on the other hand, deciduous teeth often appear between seven and ten months of age. Similar markings were also found on the three intact teeth in another Neanderthal jawbone.
Interestingly, they found that the deciduous incisors, usually the first teeth to erupt, formed rapidly even before birth and gave them a jump start to erupt sooner. But the molars formed slower in utero and were more consistent with humans.
Little if anything is known of Neanderthal babies. But we know that Neanderthal kids had large bodies and brains by year two. The researchers suggest that Neanderthal children may therefore have begun eating solid foods earlier than modern human children… Perhaps to fuel their potentially larger builds.
Mahoney, P., McFarlane, G., Smith, B. H., Miszkiewicz, J. J., Cerrito, P., Liversidge, H., Mancini, L., Dreossi, D., Veneziano, A., Bernardini, F., Cristiani, E., Behie, A., Coppa, A., Bondioli, L., Frayer, D. W., Radovčić, D., & Nava, A. (2021). Growth of Neanderthal infants from Krapina (120-130 ka), Croatia. Proceedings. Biological Sciences, 288(1963), 20212079. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.2079