Ancient Neanderthal Fossil of a Child’s Ear Bone Reveals First Known Case of Down Syndrome, Showcasing Early Altruism

A 6-year-old Neanderthal child may have had Down syndrome, according to a peculiarly shaped ear bone found in a Spanish cave. This Neanderthal fossil represents the first known instance of Down syndrome in our ancient relatives who lived in Eurasia from roughly 400,000 to 40,000 years ago.

The child, nicknamed Tina, lived into early childhood, indicating that her Neanderthal group likely cared for her, suggesting that Neanderthals exhibited altruistic behavior. “This child would have required care for at least six years, likely involving other group members assisting the mother,” the researchers noted in a study published on June 26 in Science Advances.

The ear bone, a fragment of a temporal bone, was originally excavated in 1989 at Cova Negra (Black Cave) in Xàtiva, Valencia. While other Neanderthal remains from the cave date back to 273,000 and 146,000 years ago, this particular bone was mixed with animal remains and was only recently identified.

Using micro-CT (computed tomography) technology, the team created a 3D digital model of the bone. They found that Tina’s ear bone exhibited irregularities consistent with Down syndrome, including a smaller cochlea and abnormalities in the lateral semicircular canal (LSC), which could contribute to hearing loss and severe vertigo.

The evidence suggests that Tina’s condition required significant care from her group, even though a genetic test would be required to confirm Tina’s diagnosis of Down syndrome, which involves an additional copy of chromosome 21. Beforehand, it was realized that Neanderthals focused on debilitated people inside their gatherings, however, only grown-ups were archived. This disclosure of a kid with a difficult hereditary condition, who couldn’t add to the gathering, upholds the possibility that Neanderthal consideration was persuaded by unselfishness instead of complementary advantage.

Study lead author Mercedes Conde from the University of Alcalá in Spain remarked, “The discovery of ‘Tina’ provides the first clear evidence of altruism among Neanderthals, showing that they cared for individuals who could not return the favor.”

The implications of this finding extend to modern humans as well. The presence of such social adaptations in both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens suggests a very ancient origin of these behaviors within the genus Homo.

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