This 3-D Ribcage Model of Neanderthal Infant Shows How They Had a Different Human Anatomy
A representation of the difference in human anatomy. (Credit: Advance Science Journal)
While the significance of barrel-chest shape in Neanderthals have been discussed for a while, a new study suggests that even Neanderthal babies had similar thoracic development.
According to the study, newborns had the trademark barrel-shaped ribs associated with most popular Neanderthal imagery. This feature accommodated the young to have more bodyweight.
In a first of its kind, a three-dimensional digital reconstruction was created from four fossilised infant remains. With this useful image in hand, the researchers discovered that the young ones were born with shorter and deeper ribcages as compared to modern humans or Homo Sapiens.
The Neanderthals, or Homo neanderthalensis, were among the first Homo species to walk erect and upright. The first was Homo erectus. Both these species could not survive evolutionary processes. It is important to note than Neanderthals are not a direct ancestor to humans, but more like cousins. However, it is largely accepted they shared a common ancestor, Homo heidelbergensis, but it is up to debate.
The study’s lead author was Daniel Garcia-Martinez, an anthropologist from the University of Bordeaux. It was published in journal Science Advances. He said, “The specimens had consistently shorter spines and deeper rib cages — regardless of their age at death.”
The specimens were fossilised remains of Neanderthal infants that ranged from one and a half weeks to just under four months at the time of their deaths. They were found in Russia, Syria, and France.
The team scanned the four into their computer program, shedding more light onto their unique physique. Neanderthals could take breaths much deeper than us.
The thoracic cavity is the largest cavity in a human which houses the lungs and heart. It is enclosed by the ribs in front and spine in the back. The analysis of thorax can reveal details about a species’ balance as well as endurance.
With short and deep thorax, it can be inferred that their physical lifestyle required greater amounts of oxygen and energy. Neanderthals were alive till 40,000 years ago. As revealed by the team, they would have used heavy rudimentary spears and hunted large animals, including the woolly mammoth and boars. So, the need for such a lung cavity is justified.
But whether the lung cavities developed over a normal life – birth to adulthood or was innate had been a topic of debate. It can be settled now with some amount of clarity. “The specimens had consistently shorter spines and deeper rib cages — regardless of their age at death,” said Dr Garcia.