First case of Down syndrome in Neanderthals documented in new study

By Jurassic JennJun 28, 2024 11:04 AMScience
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First case of Down syndrome in Neanderthals documented in new study
First case of Down syndrome in Neanderthals documented in new study. Source: amp.cnn.com

In a groundbreaking study published in the journal Science Advances, an international team of researchers, including scholars from Binghamton University, State University of New York, has unveiled the first documented case of Down syndrome in Neanderthals. This remarkable discovery sheds light on Neanderthals' capacity for providing altruistic care and support for vulnerable members within their social groups. The research was led by anthropologists from the University of Alcalá and the University of Valencia in Spain, who thoroughly examined the skeletal remains of a Neanderthal child known as "Tina," found within the famed Cova Negra cave in Valencia. This was reported by SSPDaily.

Cova Negra has played a pivotal role in our understanding of Neanderthal lifestyles along the Mediterranean coast of the Iberian Peninsula, helping to decipher settlement patterns characterized by short temporal durations, small populations, and intermittent presence of carnivores, according to Professor Valentín Villaverde from the University of Valencia.

Using micro-computed tomography scans of a cranial fragment, specifically the right temporal bone encompassing the ear region, the researchers reconstructed a detailed three-dimensional model to facilitate measurement and analysis. The findings revealed that Tina, throughout her life, suffered from Down syndrome and had a congenital inner ear pathology associated with it. This condition resulted in severe hearing loss and debilitating vertigo. Despite her challenges, Tina survived until at least 6 years of age, undoubtedly relying on extensive care and support from her Neanderthal social group.

Professor Rolf Quam from Binghamton University's Anthropology Department called the study "fantastic," praising the integration of rigorous archaeological excavations, state-of-the-art medical imaging techniques, and diagnostic criteria to establish the presence of Down syndrome in a Neanderthal individual. He also emphasized the significant implications these findings have on our understanding of Neanderthal behavior.

While it has long been known that Neanderthals exhibited social care towards disabled individuals, previous cases largely involved adults. Consequently, some scientists disputed the altruistic nature of this behavior, suggesting instead that it represented reciprocal exchange between equals. However, the discovery of Tina challenges this perspective. As stated by lead author Mercedes Conde, a professor at the University of Alcalá, Tina's case signifies the existence of genuine altruism among Neanderthals since she received help despite being unable to reciprocate.

This groundbreaking research enriches our knowledge of our ancient human relatives, illuminating their acts of kindness and compassion towards vulnerable community members. The study serves as a testament to the complexity and depth of Neanderthal social dynamics, highlighting their remarkable level of care and support for individuals with unique challenges within their population.

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