The big teeth of Neanderthal toddlers
At 18 months, Neanderthal children already had big teeth, larger than those of modern humans. The new finding of a lower jaw, at a Belgian cave, by Isabelle Crevecoeur, belongs to the youngest Neanderthal specimen ever found and already possessed Neanderthal traits, such as a strong jaw and big teeth.
While the kid had thinner enamel than would be found in modern humans of similar age, it already shows a clear early growth spurt in comparison to our species, starting this development maybe as early as 12 months old.
The research is scheduled to appear in the Journal of Human Evolution and has already the blessings of famous Neanderthalist Erik Trinkaus, who thinks that the conclusions are well-reasoned and reasonable.
Were the ornaments of Grotte du Renne made by Neanderthals?
|Ornaments from Grotte du Renne|
According to Randall White the layers are so mixed and convoluted that it is impossible to say. However João Zilhão argues that White's evidence says exactly the opposite. Zilhão has in the past also clashed with other researchers on stratigraphic issues related to Chatelperronian, Neanderthals and the MP-UP transition in SW Europe.
Critically the earliest research of this cave, by Leroi-Gourham, found many Neanderthal teeth in the Chatelperronian layer, that is arguably intermediate between Mousterian and Aurignacian. However recently there has been some questioning of the attribution to Neanderthals of the Chatelperronian industry.
The case is that dates obtained from Chatelperronian materials range from 49,000 to c. 21,000 years ago, when Neanderthals are already thought to have been completely extinct for some 10 millennia (longer locally).
If this interpretation of White is correct and Chatelperronian effectively happens to be an industry of Homo sapiens, then it would be a lot easier, specially with such late dates as 21,000 BP, to trace the origins of Gravettian industry, whose closest relative is no doubt Chatelperronian (both were originally described as Perigordian and only lack of direct evidence for continuity broke down that category in two eventually).
Zilhão's counter-argumentation seems to go along the lines of most dates at Grotte du Renne being consistent with known Neanderthal presence (i.e. in the oldest range). I would say that, if the oldest date is just 49,000 BP, this fits completely well in the model that argues that all UP technologies in Europe, including Chatelperronian possibly, are the work of our species, because these technologies only appear since c. 49-48,000 calBP and more strongly since c. 44,000 calBP.
Source: Science (free article).
Ref. Thomas Higham et al., Chronology of the Grotte du Renne (France) and implications for the context of ornaments and human remains within the Châtelperronian. PNAS 2010 (pay per view, varying on location and time of retrieval).