Wintertime stress, nursing, and lead exposure in Neanderthal children

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Smith, TM, Austin, C, Green, DR, Joannes-Boyau, R, Bailey, S, Dumitriu, D, Fallon, S, Grün, R, James, HF, Moncel, M, Williams, IS, Wood, R & Arora, M 2018, 'Wintertime stress, nursing, and lead exposure in Neanderthal children', Science Advances, vol. 4, no. 10.

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Scholars endeavor to understand the relationship between human evolution and climate change. This is particularly germane for Neanderthals, who survived extreme Eurasian environmental variation and glaciations, mysteriously going extinct during a cool interglacial stage. Here, we integrate weekly records of climate, tooth growth, and metal exposure in two Neanderthals and one modern human from southeastern France. The Neanderthals inhabited cooler and more seasonal periods than the modern human, evincing childhood developmental stress during wintertime. In one instance, this stress may have included skeletal mobilization of elemental stores and weight loss; this individual was born in the spring and appears to have weaned 2.5 years later. Both Neanderthals were exposed to lead at least twice during the deep winter and/or early spring. This multidisciplinary approach elucidates direct relationships between ancient environments and hominin paleobiology.

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