Study describes developmental processes that differentiate Neanderthal facial skeletons from those of modern humans

According to a latest study, the Neanderthals, who existed roughly 200,000 years back, were quite different from modern humans in the manner in which their faces grow. The study findings have come up as an addition to an old but significant debate concerning the separation of the two groups.

Paleoanthropologist Rodrigo Lacruz, assistant professor in New York University’s College of Dentistry (NYUCD), said, “This is an important piece of the puzzle of evolution. Some have thought that Neanderthals and humans should not be considered distinct branches of human family tree. However, our findings, based upon facial growth patterns, indicate they are indeed sufficiently distinct from one another”.

For reaching this conclusion, the researchers set out to understand the morphological processes that differentiate the faces of Neanderthals from the present day humans. It is a significant factor in understanding the evolution process from archaic to modern humans.

The formation of bone takes place via a process of bone deposition by bone-forming cells osteoblasts and resorption by bone-absorbing cells osteoclast, which shatters down bone. The outermost layer of bone in the face has huge resorptive fields in humans but in Neanderthals, the case is opposite. There is extensive bone deposition in the outermost layer of bone.

With the used of an electron microscope and a moveable confocal microscope, created by co-author Dr. Timothy Bromage of NYUCD’s Department of Biomaterials, for the first time, the team mapped the bone-cell growth processes (resorption and deposition) that occurred in the outer layer of the facial skeletons of adolescent Neanderthals.

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