Now We Know How Long Neanderthals Breastfed

It was a probably a relatively short span of 14 months, study says

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted May 23, 2013 1:07 PM CDT

(Newser) – The American Academy of Pediatrics would have smiled on at least one aspect of Neanderthal child-rearing: Chemical analysis of a fossilized tooth suggests that Neanderthal moms breastfed exclusively for seven months, then breastfed while supplementing with food for another seven, reports Australia's ABC Science. After that, the little knuckledragger was on solid food for good. Those parameters are pretty much what the AAP recommends, notes the New York Times, though it's a much shorter span than typically happens in the real world (figure 2.5 years), as well as among chimps (5.3 years).

That relatively short weaning period could tell much about Neanderthal life, the researchers suggest in their paper at Nature. It could mean, for instance, that women had children at a fast clip. And if that's the case, they would have needed help from other adults tending to large broods, an insight that would shed light on their social structures. On the other hand, it was just one tooth, and one of the researchers says it would be "reckless" to read too much into it without first studying other Neanderthal samples.

This picture provided by the American Museum of Natural History shows a mural depicting Neanderthal life.   (AP Photo/American Museum of Natural History)
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