Neanderthal Brain

Tradition says this Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens were intellectually different. But archaeologists and anthropologists increasingly insist that the intellectual divide between the two species is diminishing.

In fact, the traces of their ancient activities show more and more that the two species followed a similar path survival strategies. Residing in similar societiesthey made similar sounds and manipulated similar tools. Also, the latest research shows that the two created similar artwhich also shows their shared taste for abstraction.

But what about their brains? Was there something in their anatomy that distinguished their thinking?

Some specialists say yes. Working in the fields of paleontology, paleoneurology, and paleogenetics, experts suspect that even the slightest differences in the structure and development of the two species’ brains could differentiate their cognition in complex and consistent ways.

The brutal beginnings of the Neanderthal

When scientists discovered the first Neanderthal fossils about two centuries ago they were not sure what they were working with. While some assumed they had stumbled upon their own ancient ancestors, others thought the specimens meant something else entirely.

At the time, there was only one conclusion they felt about confident: Whatever the fossil’s formal classification, the creature they found was far from intelligent, they thought, when it roamed the world thousands of years ago.

Read more: Who were the Neanderthals?

Neanderthal thinking

“Darkness characterizes the creature to which the fossil belongs,” he claims analysis from one set of specimens from the 1860s. “The thoughts and desires that once dwelt in him never rose beyond those of animals.”

Expressed around the same time Neanderthals secured the status of a individual speciesthis now unfavorable moods derives from the fact that Neanderthals showed “uniquely different” skull structure from our own kinds.

Because of this difference, Neanderthals were fast branded as a type of rude peoplewho were caught in the trap of the ignorant”gloominess” to our own intellectually superior species defeated them about 40,000 years ago.

Neanderthal intelligence

In the years since, archaeologists and anthropologists have found abundant hints that Neanderthals operated with a similar sophistication to our own kind. In addition to their ilk survival strategies and toolsrecent research also suggests that Neanderthals communicated and created cultures of art and decoration comparable to ours ancestors.

The complexity from these activities suggest that Neanderthal minds mirrored our own. But what exactly do we know about their brain structure and development?

Read more: Debunking the Myth of Homo Sapiens Supremacy

Did Neanderthals have bigger brains?

Specialists are still looking for their first bits of brain by Neanderthals, as these tissues are usually the first part of the body they break down after death. However, they have found an abundance of preserved skulls of the kind which includes the castings or internal surfaces of the brains they once contained.

Neanderthal brain size

Overall, these skulls show that the brains of H. neanderthalensis and H. sapiens were of similar sizewith H. neanderthalensis brains beat H. sapiens brains only small in proportion to their total volume.

Neanderthal skull capacity

Although measurements are not always consistent and change over time, experts say a typical Neanderthal skull contains about 1500 cubic centimeters (or 51 ounces) of cerebral tissue, although the skulls of their more modern counterparts show a smaller cranial capacity of only 1350 cubic centimeters (or 46 oz.).

Stretched brain

In addition to their size, Neanderthal brains and braincases were also slightly stretchedcreating a strange, hemispherical skull that ends in a big bump to the back. Called the “occiput,” this protrusion was one of the first features of Neanderthal anatomy that experts discovered and described.

Read more: Neanderthal brains: Bigger, not necessarily better

The structure of the Neanderthal brain

Paleontologists and paleoneurologists suspect that Neanderthals’ odd traits influenced the size, shape, and placement of separate structures inside their brains, transforming their specific thought patterns.

Some research suppose for example that the structure of the Neanderthal skull means that H. neanderthalensis the cerebellum was smaller than H. sapiens small brain. A small cerebellum, according to these studies, can reduce the capacity of the species to I study and think logicallyto process languageand to interact sociallywhich would significantly affect its survival.

To this is added a set of similar propositions about the peculiarities of the Neanderthal mind. For example, some paleontologists and paleoneurologists say that much more of the species’ brain was concentrated on controlling basic body movements, all thanks to the species larger, bulkier bodieswhich were more difficult to move than ours.

The development of the Neanderthal brain

In addition to its simple structure, experts are learning a lot about the development of the Neanderthal brain from birth to adulthood.

For example, on shape and size of young, juvenile, and adult skulls suggest that H. neanderthalensis minds ripens much more slowly than our own minds mature. They were below 90 percent of their average volume for 8-year-old adults. And while that may not seem slow, say the experts that this is roughly the same age H. sapiens brains today are becoming complete in terms of their total volume.

Building Neanderthal brains

Genetic analyzes add further support to the idea that Neanderthal brain development differed from ours. In fact, although specialists have traditionally stuck to skulls in their attempts to study Neanderthal intelligence, recent reconstruction of the Neanderthal genome inspires some to turn to the ancient genes that guide brain growth instead as a way to distinguish between H. neanderthalensis and H. sapiens thinking.

Read more: Traces of Neanderthal and other ancient humans may still live in our DNA today


in 2021for example, a team of geneticists studied a gene called NOVA1which directs the development of brain tissues in H. neanderthalensis and H. sapiens. Insertion of two different forms of the gene c clusters of uncultured cellsthe team found that the form of NOVA1 found in H. neanderthalensis created more patchy patches of brain tissue when cultured, while the form of NOVA1 found in H. sapiens created smooth, spherical lumps.

Read more: Creating Neanderthal ‘mini-brains’ with ancient DNA, CRISPR


The following year, in 2022a second team of geneticists followed a similar approach with a gene called TKTL1, which drives the production of neurons. While H. neanderthalensis form of TKTL1 promotes some neurons, H. sapiens form encouraged much more.

Although these findings show that the brains of H. neanderthalensis and H. sapiens developed differently, they do not reveal all the details of this difference. Individual genes are just tiny threads in a larger genetic tapestry, experts say, suggesting that a true appreciation of NOVA1 and TKTL1’s influence on something as complex as cognition can only come in the context of a more complete genome.

Read more: These tiny “brains” can help demystify the human mind

Although it will take time, experts say future work in this area will unravel the influence of a host of other genes on Neanderthal brain growth. Combined with insights gleaned from the structure of skulls, this work will eventually paint a clearer picture of the differences between our own cognition and that of our closest cousins.

Read more: Why did the Neanderthals disappear?

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