Difference between facial growth of Neanderthals and modern humans

Dec 17, 2015

source: New York University

An international research team, led by Rodrigo Lacruz, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Basic Science and Craniofacial Biology at New York University’s College of Dentistry (NYUCD), has just published a study describing for the first time the developmental processes that differentiate Neanderthal facial skeletons from those of modern humans.

Lacruz’s research team showed that the Neanderthals, who appeared about 200,000 years ago, are quite distinct from Homo sapiens (humans) in the manner in which their faces grow, adding to an old but important debate concerning the separation of these two groups. The paper, “Ontogeny of the Maxilla in Neanderthals and their Ancestors,” appears in Nature Communications.

“This is an important piece of the puzzle of evolution,” says Lacruz, a paleoanthropologist and enamel biologist. “Some have thought that Neanderthals and humans should not be considered distinct branches of the human family tree. However, our findings, based upon facial growth patterns, indicate they are indeed sufficiently distinct from one another.


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8 comments on “Difference between facial growth of Neanderthals and modern humans

  • @OP – However, our findings, based upon facial growth patterns, indicate they are indeed sufficiently distinct from one another.

    If we look at domestic dogs, it becomes clear that considerable diversity can arise in a relatively short time, if there is selection pressure pushing in a particular direction.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3567726/figure/fig1/

    Prominent differences across breeds include palate shape (p, indicated by white dots), neurocranium shape (nc, enclosed by blue dots), cranial base length (cb, red line). Also note the angle of the palate relative to the cranial base.



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  • That link is effective. Such a diversity, as you said. It reinforces my impression on viewing the skulls in the OP above, that there is a difference but not one that I found to be jaw-dropping. 😉 Are you impressed with their claim? Maybe I’m missing something.

    I don’t have enough context to appreciate this information.



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  • Given the end-result of different facial morphologies, this study shows how they grow to reach that point. Neanderthals have primitive features in this regard, shared with earlier hominids, that humans do not.

    That is a distinction to be sure, but let me play the devil’s advocate.

    The fact that Neanderthals retain a primitive facial-development mechanism that we do not is all very interesting, but hardly surprising and does not on its own a new species make. (So they make less use of neoteny than we do, and retain primitive characteristics…)

    The two populations could and did interbreed and leave viable, fertile offspring; and the differences in morphology are underwhelming (compared with what artificial selection has produced in domestic species), so I’d like to hear why they’re not part of the same species or “species cluster”.



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  • MadEnglishman
    Dec 19, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    The two populations could and did interbreed and leave viable, fertile offspring; and the differences in morphology are underwhelming (compared with what artificial selection has produced in domestic species), so I’d like to hear why they’re not part of the same species or “species cluster”.

    They were sub-species which were part of the same “species cluster”, but geogrphically isolated for various extended periods.

    http://dictionary.kids.net.au/word/subspecies
    Subspecies – (biology) a taxonomic group that is a division of a species, usually arises as a consequence of geographical isolation within a species.

    Basically, it was branching evolution in action, but some of the groups then came back together before they had become too different to produce ANY fertile offspring. One group then died out, while some of their genes persisted and were retained as the small number of hybrids were absorbed into the wider population.



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  • Quite so.

    Given the article’s finding that the Neanderthal facial morphology was primitive, it seems that we were splitting away from them rather than vice-versa.

    (The researcher seems to be saying. that they should be “considered distinct branches”. It’s unclear what is meant by that; it seems mere hyperbole if he’s not claiming anything more than subspecies status, and a possible over-reach if he is.)



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  • Doesn’t it just mean we were divided before we became human like and two types of that ape took the almost same evolutionary route and became human like? Doesn’t that make it quite significant and unusual?



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  • MadEnglishman
    Dec 20, 2015 at 3:55 am

    Basically, nature does not necessarily fit into neat boxes of human classifications – as is illustrated by ring species: –

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larus#Ring_species

    The circumpolar group of Larus gull species has often been cited as a classic example of the ring species. The range of these gulls forms a ring around the North Pole. The European herring gull, which lives primarily in Great Britain, can hybridize with the American herring gull (living in North America), which can also interbreed with the Vega or East Siberian herring gull, the western subspecies of which, Birula’s gull, can hybridize with Heuglin’s gull, which in turn can interbreed with the Siberian lesser black-backed gull (all four of these live across the north of Siberia). The last is the eastern representative of the lesser black-backed gulls back in northwestern Europe, including Great Britain. However, the lesser black-backed gulls and herring gull are sufficiently different that they cannot interbreed; thus the group of gulls forms a continuum except in Europe where the two lineages meet.



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