Brain ontogeny and life history in Pleistocene hominins

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2015 Mar 5;370(1663):20140062. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2014.0062.


A high level of encephalization is critical to the human adaptive niche and emerged among hominins over the course of the past 2 Myr. Evolving larger brains required important adaptive adjustments, in particular regarding energy allocation and life history. These adaptations included a relatively small brain at birth and a protracted growth of highly dependent offspring within a complex social environment. In turn, the extended period of growth and delayed maturation of the brain structures of humans contribute to their cognitive complexity. The current palaeoanthropological evidence shows that, regarding life history and brain ontogeny, the Pleistocene hominin taxa display different patterns and that one cannot simply contrast an 'ape-model' to a 'human-model'. Large-brained hominins such as Upper Pleistocene Neandertals have evolved along their own evolutionary pathway and can be distinguished from modern humans in terms of growth pattern and brain development. The life-history pattern and brain ontogeny of extant humans emerged only recently in the course of human evolution.

Keywords: Homo erectus; Neandertal; Pleistocene; brain; hominins; ontogeny.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Brain / embryology*
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Fossils*
  • Hominidae*
  • Humans
  • Organ Size
  • Paleontology
  • Species Specificity