Battle of the Brains: Neanderthal vs. Homo sapiens

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  Last updated April 27, 2018 at 3:28 pm

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Could their unique brain structure be the potential cause for Neanderthal extinction?


Comparison of Modern Human and Neanderthal skulls from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Credit: Dr Mike Baxter/Wikimedia Commons


It’s a bit of a mind boggle as to the many reasons why Neanderthals became extinct, but new research suggests that the structure of their brains could have something to do with their disappearance from the evolutionary pipeline, and the rise of their replacement – Homo sapiens.


The international study conducted at Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International in Tokyo reconstructed the brains of eight Neanderthal and early Homo sapiens skull fossils with digital scans, then used MRI data to model the average human brain.


Credit: Naomichi Ogihara, Hiroki Tanabe et al [CLICK TO ENLARGE]

Deforming this computer model to match the cranial shape of our predecessors, the researchers were able to predict what their brains might have looked like, as well as the differences between the two species.


While the Neanderthals had the larger brain, the early Homo sapiens had the larger cerebellum.


Studying the links between cerebellum size and the strength of its various abilities, such as language comprehension and production, working memory and cognitive flexibility, the findings suggest that the Homo sapiens may have possessed more advanced cognitive and social abilities than Neanderthals.


This may have allowed them to adapt better to changing environments, develop vital survival skills and form close relationships with other individuals of their species; extending their existence to the next generation.


But for the doomed Neanderthals, it seems it’s just a case of live and let die.


The study was published in Scientific Reports.


Related


Reconstructing the Neanderthals’ genetic history


Neanderthals were as artistic as modern humans


Did modern humans simply replace Neanderthals through migration?




About the Author

Alayna Hansen
A freelance science writer based in Melbourne, Australia. I've been curious about science and the natural world for as long as I've been able to talk the leg off an iron pot. If you can't find me at a zoo, observatory, or running around with a microphone, I'm probably imitating David Attenborough documentaries again.

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