A skull reveals new information from the Neanderthal visual system

A skull reveals new information from the Neanderthal visual system


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The primary visual cortex is the area of ​​the brain located in the posterior pole of the occipital cortex, responsible for processing visual stimuli. In Neanderthals, this crust is more extensive than in Homo sapiens, so it follows that visual acuity would also be superior to that of modern humans, according to a study based on a specimen found in the El Sidrón cave (Asturias) .

The analysis of a 49,000-year-old occipital bone found in the El Sidrón cave (Asturias) reveals that Neanderthals had a more extensive primary visual cortex than that of Homo sapiens, which could also mean greater visual acuity, according to research from the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) and the National Museum of Natural Sciences (MNCN-CSIC).

The study, published in the Journal of Anatomy, provides information on the visual system of Neanderthals by comparing the primary visual cortex - part of the cerebral cortex located in the occipital lobe, responsible for processing visual information - with that of modern humans.

"We have shown that the Neanderthal has a more extensive primary visual cortex than modern humans, so it is very likely that it was also endowed with greater visual acuity than we do," explains Ángel Peña Melían, researcher at the Department of Anatomy and Embryology of the UCM.

"This extension is not due to adaptation to colder regions with less luminosity, as was thought up to now, since the specimen comes from a region in southern Europe that is warmer and brighter than the north of the continent," continues the expert. .

3D cranial molds

Due to excellent preservation conditions of the SD-2300 fossil fragment, corresponding to an occipital bone, exceptionally marked traces of the grooves and gyrus of the brain region related to that endocranial surface have been identified, corresponding to the occipital pole of the brain and neighboring areas.

For this study intracranial casts were made both real and virtual (using 3D computer programs) and were compared with the same regions of the modern human brain using postmortem material from the Center for Body Donation and Dissection Rooms of the UCM.

“The results of this comparison suggest that the Neanderthal brain in this region was very similar in terms of the endowment of grooves and gyri to that of modern humans. However, a greater extension of the calcarine sulcus, located on the medial face of the occipital lobe, is verified compared to modern humans ”, explains the MNCN researcher, Antonio García-Tabernero.

"As the calcarine sulcus is the longest, the primary visual cortex was also more extensive in the Neanderthal when compared to modern humans", concludes the MNCN researcher.

The brain evolution processes of Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens they are notable milestones in the paleoneurology of the genus Homo.

Both of them reached a very high degree of encephalization, but through different evolutionary trajectories, producing various changes, not only in size, but also in neurological shape and organization, as this new finding shows.

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