Humans have an unusual life history, with an early weaning age, long childhood, late first reproduction, short interbirth intervals, and long lifespan. In contrast, great apes wean later, reproduce earlier, and have longer intervals between births. Despite 80 y of speculation, the origins of these developmental patterns in Homo sapiens remain unknown. Because they record daily growth during formation, teeth provide important insights, revealing that australopithecines and early Homo had more rapid ontogenies than recent humans. Dental development in later Homo species has been intensely debated, most notably the issue of whether Neanderthals and H. sapiens differ. Here we apply synchrotron virtual histology to a geographically and temporally diverse sample of Middle Paleolithic juveniles, including Neanderthals, to assess tooth formation and calculate age at death from dental microstructure. We find that most Neanderthal tooth crowns grew more rapidly than modern human teeth, resulting in significantly faster dental maturation. In contrast, Middle Paleolithic H. sapiens juveniles show greater similarity to recent humans. These findings are consistent with recent cranial and molecular evidence for subtle developmental differences between Neanderthals and H. sapiens. When compared with earlier hominin taxa, both Neanderthals and H. sapiens have extended the duration of dental development. This period of dental immaturity is particularly prolonged in modern humans.
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