Early Man Survived By Growing Up Slowly

It's how we outsmarted the Neanderthals
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 17, 2010 1:59 PM CST
Early Man Survived By Growing Up Slowly
In this Jan. 8, 2003 file photo a reconstructed Neanderthal skeleton, right, and a modern human version of a skeleton are seen on display at the Museum of Natural History in New York.   (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

(Newser) – Immaturity may be the key to the human race’s dominance. Neanderthals have brains roughly the same size as early humans, and their tools were just as good, so scientists have long puzzled over how Homo sapiens became the top primates on the block. Now, some scientists think they have the answer, NPR reports, and it’s pretty counterintuitive. They think humans won out because they grow up more slowly.

Early human fossils indicate “a really long period of growth and development,” explains one Harvard anthropologist. “They did not live fast and die young; they seem to have lived slow and died old.” Though maturing quickly allowed Neanderthals to reproduce faster, the human slow-burn approach “has a lot of implications in terms of social organization, time for education, maturation of the brain, even psychology somehow,” an evolutionary scientist says. And in a social species, even small edges like that produce big survival advantages.

For more on our fascinating early cousins, click here. (Read more homo sapiens stories.)

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