Great minds grow alike. Evidence from Neanderthals’ skulls suggests that their large brains grew in the same way as ours do. That in turn suggests that Neanderthals were perhaps not so cognitively different from us – although not everyone agrees with this interpretation.
We know that Neanderthal brains were roughly the same size as ours, making them the largest among all known extinct human species. To get a sense for how they grew over an individual’s life, Christoph Zollikofer at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and his colleagues looked at 15 Neanderthal skulls. Six belonged to adults and nine to children; the youngest was an individual who died just weeks after birth, the oldest a child who died aged roughly 12.
It’s difficult – perhaps impossible – to work out exactly how such changes in the brain relate to particular cognitive traits. But if Neanderthals and us share this pattern of brain development, it becomes just that little bit harder to argue that Neanderthals were cognitively different from us, says Zollikofer.
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