TechDown syndrome in Neanderthals: A groundbreaking discovery

Down syndrome in Neanderthals: A groundbreaking discovery

Neanderthals were not unfamiliar with empathy
Neanderthals were not unfamiliar with empathy
Images source: © Neanderthal-Museum, Mettmann CC BY-SA 4.0

1 July 2024 09:56

Scientists have discovered that Neanderthals, like modern humans, could suffer from Down syndrome. The scientists managed to document the first case of this condition in the ancient "cousins" of Homo sapiens.

Scientists from an international research team documented the first case of Down syndrome in a Neanderthal, suggesting that our extinct relatives cared for children with this condition. This significant discovery was published in the prestigious scientific journal "Science Advances".

The case concerns a small Neanderthal child who suffered from Down syndrome. This is the first documented case among Neanderthals, suggesting that our extinct relatives were not as primitive as previously thought. Evidence indicates that Neanderthals cared for this child, showing their capacity for empathy and care.

Neanderthals were not so primitive

In the past, Neanderthals were often portrayed as primitive beings, especially after the discovery of the first Neanderthal fossils in the mid-19th century. However, over time, subsequent scientific discoveries began to change this image. It has been proven that Neanderthals could make tools, control fire, and even believe in an afterlife. Furthermore, it was discovered that they had a version of the gene responsible for articulated speech and cared for members of their group who had suffered bone injuries.

The latest research focused on the bones of a Neanderthal child scientist, Tina. Fragments of the skeleton were found in Cova Negra cave in Valencia, Spain.

The research team, led by scientists from the Spanish universities of Alcalá and Valencia, conducted a scan using micro-computed tomography of a small skull fragment in the area of the right temporal bone.

Studies showed that Tina suffered from a congenital inner ear pathology associated with Down syndrome, which caused severe hearing problems and dizziness. The child lived for at least six years but required constant care from other group members.

Rolf Quam from Binghamton University (USA), a member of the research team, explained the significance of these findings: "This is a fantastic study, combining rigorous archaeological excavations, modern medical imaging techniques and diagnostic criteria to document Down syndrome in a Neandertal individual for the first time. The results have significant implications for our understanding of Neandertal behaviour".

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