There is a new paper coming out in PNAS called Neanderthal brain size at birth provides insights into the evolution of human life history (wouldn’t you know it is not open access, so if anybody out there has access can you mail me a copy) that argues Neanderthals grew quickly but reached maturity later. The high growth rates placed greater demands on Neanderthal women and ultimately increased interbirth intervals. Consequently, they were out competed by anatomically modern Homo sapiens who had a shorter birth intervals, etc.
National Geographic has a write up of the paper, which is interesting but seems to focus on the more, um, extravagant claims of the paper:
Young Neanderthals’ rapid growth required lots of energy, experts say.
“Neanderthals must have had a rich diet in protein and fat for children to fuel rapid growth in [their] brains,” said Holly Smith of the Museum of Anthropology at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in the research.
Mothers also likely had to consume vast quantities of calories to produce enough breast milk.
This energy-intensive child rearing may have caused “somewhat longer interbirth intervals, or somewhat older mothers,” study co-author Zollikofer said.
According to National Geographic the researchers reconstructed the skulls of two neanderthal infants (one from Mezmaiskaya Cave in Russia – a find new to me – and the other from Dederiyeh Cave in Syria) along with reconstructing a female Neanderthal pelvis found at Tabun.
Christopher Dean is skeptical:
“I think they might be trying to push their data too far,” he said.
H’mm, anybody remember Trinkaus and his claim that Neanderthal gestation length was a year…