science

Neanderthal milk tooth shows primary teeth appeared four months sooner than what is seen in humans


The discovery of a preserved Neanderthal milk tooth reveals baby teeth emerged four months sooner among infants of the extinct species than what is seen in modern humans.

A team of international scientists analyzed the tooth of a child that lived 120,000 years ago near what is now the city of Krapina, Croatia and were able to determine the tooth appeared when the child was between four and seven months old.

Primary teeth in modern babies typically start coming in between six and 12 months.

The findings also suggest that Neanderthal children were able to start eating solid foods at an earlier age, which may have been necessary to nourish their much larger brains.

The discovery of a preserved Neanderthal milk tooth reveals baby teeth emerged four months sooner among infants of the extinct species than what is seen in modern humans

The discovery of a preserved Neanderthal milk tooth reveals baby teeth emerged four months sooner among infants of the extinct species than what is seen in modern humans

Human infants typically grow teeth in the front of their mouths, known as incisors, with the molars and canines appearing later.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says children can start eating solid foods around six months, but by eight months, they can consume a variety of different foods, including all food groups.

Until then, it is recommended that infants are only given their mother’s milk or formula.

However, Neanderthal milk tooth suggests the child was dining on meats, veggies and other solids at about four months old, according to the study published in The Royal Society.

A team of international scientists analyzed the tooth of a child that lived 120,000 years ago near what is now the city of Krapina, Croatia and were able to determine the tooth appeared when the child was between four and seven months old

A team of international scientists analyzed the tooth of a child that lived 120,000 years ago near what is now the city of Krapina, Croatia and were able to determine the tooth appeared when the child was between four and seven months old

Study co-author B. Holly Smith told Inverse that the speed in which the baby teeth grew suggests a higher mortality rate among the species.

With teeth appearing earlier, that means Neanderthals’ bodies may have also aged faster than what is seen among modern human babies.

Neanderthals went extinct around 40,000 years ago after being out-competed for food and shelter by the more intelligent Homo sapiens, but archaeologists are still finding their ancient remains –with a recent discovery of another milk tooth in 2020.

Researchers from the University of Bologna found the tooth near Venice, which is believed to have belonged to one of Italy’s last Neanderthal children.

The canine tooth belonged to a pre-teen, likely 11 or 12 years old, and dates back 45,000 years.

The tooth would have been in the upper row of teeth on the right-hand side of the child’s mouth.

It was discovered in a rock shelter at an archaeological site called ‘Riparo del Broion’ on the Berici Hills in the Veneto region, near Venice.

Researchers from the University of Bologna found the tooth near Venice, which is believed to have belonged to one of Italy's last Neanderthal children. The canine tooth belonged to a pre-teen, likely 11 or 12 years old, and dates back 45,000 years

Researchers from the University of Bologna found the tooth near Venice, which is believed to have belonged to one of Italy’s last Neanderthal children. The canine tooth belonged to a pre-teen, likely 11 or 12 years old, and dates back 45,000 years

It was discovered in a rock shelter at an archaeological site called 'Riparo del Broion' on the Berici Hills in the Veneto region, near Venice

It was discovered in a rock shelter at an archaeological site called ‘Riparo del Broion’ on the Berici Hills in the Veneto region, near Venice

Matteo Romandini, lead author of the study at the University of Bologna says: ‘High-resolution prehistoric field-archaeology allowed us to find the tooth, then we employed virtual approaches to the analyses of its shape, genome, taphonomy and of its radiometric profile.

‘Following this process, we could identify this tooth as belonging to a child that was one of the last Neanderthals in Italy.’

Mitochondrial DNA is similar to normal DNA, except it is smaller and stored in the mitochondria, the powerhouses of human cells, not the nucleus.

It is also inherited only from the mother and therefore paints a picture of maternal heredity.

The owner of this tooth had a mother who was descended from Neanderthals that had lived in Belgium, the DNA revealed.

‘This small tooth is extremely important’, said Stefano Benazzi, professor at the University of Bologna and research coordinator.

‘This is even more relevant if we consider that, when this child who lived in Veneto lost their tooth, Homo Sapiens communities were already present a thousand kilometers away in Bulgaria.’

A close relative of modern humans, Neanderthals went extinct 40,000 years ago

The Neanderthals were a close human ancestor that mysteriously died out around 40,000 years ago.

The species lived in Africa with early humans for millennia before moving across to Europe around 300,000 years ago.

They were later joined by humans, who entered Eurasia around 48,000 years ago.  

The Neanderthals were a cousin species of humans but not a direct ancestor - the two species split from a common ancestor -  that perished around 50,000 years ago. Pictured is a Neanderthal museum exhibit

The Neanderthals were a cousin species of humans but not a direct ancestor – the two species split from a common ancestor –  that perished around 50,000 years ago. Pictured is a Neanderthal museum exhibit

These were the original ‘cavemen’, historically thought to be dim-witted and brutish compared to modern humans.

In recent years though, and especially over the last decade, it has become increasingly apparent we’ve been selling Neanderthals short.

A growing body of evidence points to a more sophisticated and multi-talented kind of ‘caveman’ than anyone thought possible.

It now seems likely that Neanderthals had told, buried their dead, painted and even interbred with humans.   

They used body art such as pigments and beads, and they were the very first artists, with Neanderthal cave art (and symbolism) in Spain apparently predating the earliest modern human art by some 20,000 years.

They are thought to have hunted on land and done some fishing. However, they went extinct around 40,000 years ago following the success of Homo sapiens in Europe.  



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