Neanderthals

Neanderthals were our closest extinct human relatives. They were known for their distinctive skull features such as a large middle part of the face, angled cheekbones, and a large nose that helped humidify and warm cold, dry air. They had shorter and stockier bodies than modern humans, which helped them adapt to cold environments.

  • However, their brains were just as large as ours, and sometimes even larger, in proportion to their brawnier bodies. Neanderthals had a diverse set of sophisticated tools, controlled fire, lived in shelters, made and wore clothing, were skilled hunters, and also ate plants. There is evidence that they deliberately buried their dead and occasionally even marked their graves with offerings such as flowers.

Comparing the Human Brain to Neanderthals

Many people believe that the human brain's large size is what sets us apart from other species, but there may be more to it than that. The shape of the brain, as well as the shapes of its individual parts, or lobes, may also play a significant role. A study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution shows that the way different parts of the human brain evolved separates us from our primate relatives. In a sense, our brains never "grow up" - we share this characteristic only with one other primate: the Neanderthals. The study provides insight into what makes us human, but also further narrows any distinction between ourselves and our extinct Neanderthal relatives.

Tracking the Evolution of the Brain

  • Mammalian brains have four distinct regions or lobes, each with a particular function. The frontal lobe is associated with reasoning and abstract thought, the temporal lobe with preserving memory, the occipital lobe with vision, and the parietal lobe helps to integrate sensory inputs.
  • The study aimed to investigate whether the brain's lobes evolved independently of each other, or whether evolutionary change in one lobe is necessarily tied to changes in others. In other words, it looked for evidence of the evolution of the lobes being "integrated."
  • In particular, the researchers wanted to know how human brains might differ from other primates in this respect. To do this, they looked at how different lobes have changed over time among different species and measured how much shape change in each lobe correlated with shape change in others.
  • They also measured the degree to which the brain's lobes are integrated with each other as an animal grows through different stages of its life cycle.

The Results

  • The results of the study were surprising. Tracking change over time across dozens of primate species, the researchers found that humans had particularly high levels of brain integration, especially between the parietal and frontal lobes. However, they also found that we are not unique - integration between these lobes was similarly high in Neanderthals.
  • Looking at changes in brain shape as animals mature, the study found that human and Neanderthal brains were both more integrated than those of other primates, supporting the findings from the analysis of fossils.
  • The researchers suggest that the high integration of the brain's lobes in humans and Neanderthals may have been an important factor in the development of our complex cognitive abilities and advanced societies.

In conclusion, the study found that the way different parts of the human brain evolved separates us from our primate relatives. Additionally, it provides insight into what makes us human and also further narrows the distinction between ourselves and our extinct Neanderthal cousins. The research suggests that the high integration of the brain's lobes in humans and Neanderthals may have been an important factor in the development of our complex cognitive abilities and advanced societies.

 

Written by IAS POINT

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