Neandertals differ from recent and terminal Pleistocene human populations in their patterns of dental development, endostructural (internal structure) organization, and relative tissue proportions. Although significant changes in craniofacial and postcranial morphology have been found between the Middle Paleolithic and earlier Upper Paleolithic modern humans of western Eurasia and the terminal Pleistocene and Holocene inhabitants of the same region, most studies of dental maturation and structural morphology have compared Neandertals only to later Holocene humans. To assess whether earlier modern humans contrasted with later modern populations and possibly approached the Neandertal pattern, we used high-resolution microtomography to analyze the remarkably complete mixed dentition of the early Upper Paleolithic (Gravettian) child from Abrigo do Lagar Velho, Portugal, and compared it to a Neandertal sample, the late Upper Paleolithic (Magdalenian) child of La Madeleine, and a worldwide extant human sample. Some aspects of the dental maturational pattern and tooth endostructural organization of Lagar Velho 1 are absent from extant populations and the Magdalenian specimen and are currently documented only among Neandertals. Therefore, a simple Neandertal versus modern human dichotomy is inadequate to accommodate the morphostructural and developmental variation represented by Middle Paleolithic and earlier Upper Paleolithic populations. These data reinforce the complex nature of Neandertal-modern human similarities and differences, and document ongoing human evolution after the global establishment of modern human morphology.
Modern humans have been becoming more gracile over the past few tens of thousands of years. Why? Probably has something to do with the switch to agriculture. It goes to show the importance of local environment in shaping phenotype.
Well, there's a bit of context here. This paper is from the Zilhao team, who discovered the child's skeleton. They have this theory that the skeleton exhibits a mixture of Neanderthal and modern features, and that this indicates admixture between Neanderthal and modern humans. So the child would be a Neanderthl-Modern hybrid. This is hotly contested by others.
Notice the introduction:
This analysis was carried out, not to test previous interpretations of this partial skeleton as reflecting Neandertal assimilation by early modern humans...
And the final paragraph:
"Assessment of the full paleobiological (and by extension phylogenetic) implications of these findings requires further analysis."
You can almost hear the "wink wink, nudge nudge" there. "We're not at all trying to support our hypothesis, but here are some results that obviously support it anyway."
...Modern humans have been becoming more gracile over the past few tens of thousands of years. Why?...
My pet theory is that the adoption of archery favored smaller men. Large, heavy bows don't shoot any farther than lighter ones, and the carrying capacity of an environment provides food for more small people than large. More arrows from one side...
The agriculture theory doesn't do it, even non-agricultural peoples have been gracialized (is that a word and if it is did I spell it right?)
"Primitive man had "Neandertal teeth"" - still no word on primitive woman?
Tom, Have you considered the advantage of larger bows that could shoot heavier arrows at the same velocity / distance? I know that heavy middle-age arrows were required to penetrate the armor of the day and they did. Earlier, I suggest that heavier arrows (longer and larger diameter shafts and heavier points) would have more penetrating power because of the mass and could therefore bring down larger game - or not so large game with fewer hits. This would point to a selection for larger archers I assume. Just some thoughts.
Ray in Seattle (Hi, neighbor!)
As the Battle of Agincourt proved beyond doubt: range, accuracy and ability to "reload" quickly ae the deciding factors in archery.
One of the amazing things I learned when visiting museum of the Mary Rose was that EVERY able-bodied person in England practiced archery. Kids to oldsters, men AND women. In fact, forensic evidence shows that people of that era were rather narrow across the shoulders from pulling bows all the time.
Most of the impact of an arrow comes from the "down hill" side of the ballistic arc. Shoot the arrow high and it comes down fast and hard. There are formulae for the optimized thrust from the bow and the weight of the arrow to get the highest arc that leads to the most force delivered upon impact.
Well, I was sort of joking. The question of larger, heavier arrows vs. lighter, faster moving, for hunting, is still being debated. Few animals wear steel plate. Neither did neolithic man.
But anyone got an answer to my real point? Why are non-agricultural peoples getting more gracile? Or are they?
A few tens of thousands of years might align better with megafaunal extinctions than with agriculture. Early Australian aboriginals were rebust, but became more gracile, and never had agriculture. They had maybe 4-5,000 years co-existence with megafauna in Australia before they became extinct.
Well, it's a theory.