8. The Neanderthal Boy
In 2010, a seven-year-old Neanderthal boy was found among a group of 12 related adults and children in El Sidron Cave in Spain. They died 49,000 years ago.
A recent look at the boy revealed interesting things. For example, there was no difference between his growth rate and that of a modern seven-year-old. This likeness could be among the reasons why the two species interbred so easily. While it is already known that Neanderthals had the bigger brains, the boy’s was still developing. It was 87.5 percent of the adult volume. Today, a child of the same age averages around 95 percent.
Neanderthal children matured slower, which suggested that they received a longer care and learning period with adults. It remains unclear if this was a biological advantage.
Another difference was found in the boy’s vertebrae. They were not all fused. Those of modern humans fuse around 4–6 years of age. There was no disease in the young fossil, which suggested that late fusion was normal for a Neanderthal child.
The family group at El Sidron Cave is priceless. As they represent different life stages and generations, they hold the key to finally understanding the complete physical development of Neanderthals.
7. Tailors’ Hands
Scientists scanned the hands of construction workers, artists, and even butchers. Then the researchers took note of how entheses manifested (bone scars showing long-term muscle use).
For comparison, 12 prehistoric hands were also scanned and analyzed. The ancient group was equally divided between humans and Neanderthals who lived around 40,000 years ago.
Only half of the prehistoric humans showed the entheses on the thumb and index finger indicative of delicate work. The rest showed the hard labor, brute-force grip entheses on the thumb and pinky. All the Neanderthals showed the hand scars for fine-movement work instead.