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Early Childhood


© AMNH / Denis Finnin

Neanderthal child

Fossils of hominid children are rare, but researchers have found the remains of a number of young Neanderthals, ranging in age from newborn to several years old. This fossil discovered at the Roc de Marsal site in France is the partial skeleton of a three- to four-year-old child. Although young Neanderthals and modern humans resemble each other more closely than the adults do, some Neanderthal features, such as the receding chin and long, low braincase, appear early in development. By studying such fossils, scientists are learning how our hominid relatives grew up.

Roc de Marsal, France

In 1961, part of the skeleton of a Neanderthal child was found beneath the floor of the Roc de Marsal cave, in the Dordogne region of western France. The area's caves and rock shelters are known for their rich fossil record of both Neanderthals and early modern humans.

How Long Did Childhood Last?

Modern humans must remain in the care of their parents for much longer than other modern primates. Female chimpanzees, for instance, are considered fully adult at 13. Did our early hominid relatives grow up quickly like modern primates, or did they go through a lengthy childhood and adolescence the way we do? Researchers are only beginning to address this question. But preliminary studies on fossils of hominid children suggest that early humans grew up quickly and that the long childhood and teenage years of our species may be unique.


© AMNH Exhibitions

Featured Fossil: Roc de Marsal child

The partial skeleton of a three- to four-year-old Neanderthal is one of only a handful of hominid children's skeletons ever unearthed. Some of the characteristic Neanderthal traits are visible even at this early age.

  • long, low braincase
  • large nasal opening
  • no chin
Making Better Tools

At least 300,000 years ago, hominids began making more advanced stone tools using a new technique. A toolmaker would first shape a stone by knocking flakes off its surface, then remove a large flake from this "prepared core" with a single blow. This sharp-edged flake could be used right away or further shaped for different purposes. Neanderthals were masters of this technique and used it to make a wide variety of handsomely shaped, sharp tools.

Lethal Weapon

Neanderthals living in the Near East and Europe could make spear points with just a few well-placed strokes of a stone hammer. Traces of adhesive found on some stone points suggest they were once attached to a wooden shaft, perhaps glued with resin or tar and bound with plant fibers, sinew or leather.

Each flake produced by the prepared core technique had a long, continuous cutting edge. It could be used right away or adapted by tapping smaller flakes off one or both sides.

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