Discovery in Cova Negra Cave Reveals Neanderthals’ Altruistic Care for Child with Down Syndrome

Discovery in Cova Negra Cave Reveals Neanderthals’ Altruistic Care for Child with Down Syndrome

In a fascinating twist to our understanding of Neanderthals, scientists have discovered what may be the first case of Down syndrome in these archaic humans.

This significant find suggests that Neanderthals were compassionate caregivers.

Meet ‘Tina’

Researchers analyzed a small cranial fragment from a six-year-old they named ‘Tina.’

This fossil displayed features consistent with children who have Down syndrome.

Through digital scans of the fossil found in Cova Negra, a cave in Spain, they discovered that Tina suffered from a congenital pathology in the inner ear, leading to severe hearing loss and disabling vertigo.

Evidence of Care

This discovery indicates that Neanderthals were capable of providing altruistic care and support to vulnerable members of their group.

Tina’s survival well beyond infancy suggests she was cared for by her community, highlighting a compassionate side of Neanderthal life.

Breakthrough in Diagnosis

Mercedes Conde, a professor at the University of Alcalá and the study’s lead author, explained to that, until now, diagnosing Down syndrome in fossil specimens relied on analyzing ancient DNA.

Their work, however, achieved this through an anatomical study of the inner ear, opening new possibilities for studying the prevalence of Down syndrome in ancient populations.

The Cova Negra Site

Cova Negra, located in Valencia, has been a rich excavation site since 1929, revealing fossilized remains of Neanderthals who lived between 273,000 and 146,000 years ago.

Researchers revisited remains from a 1989 dig, uncovering three new fossils that had been previously overlooked, including ‘an immature temporal bone (CN-46700).’

Advanced Imaging Techniques

Using micro-computed tomography, a 3D imaging technique, researchers examined CN-46700.

The scan revealed an abnormally reduced volume in the cochlea, a part of the inner ear crucial for hearing, indicating Tina likely suffered from hearing loss and severe dizziness.

These findings were compared to another Neanderthal child’s ear, revealing significant differences.

Supporting Evidence

The study also found malformations in the lateral semicircular canal, common in individuals with Down syndrome.

This canal senses rotational and angular head movements.

Additionally, enlarged vestibular aqueducts were present, further linking the fossil to the genetic condition.

Historical Context

When these fossils were found in 1929, the average life expectancy for a child with Down syndrome was only nine years.

Previous research identified Down syndrome cases in the Iron Age, but none survived past 16 months.

Tina’s survival until age six suggests she received care from her group, demonstrating Neanderthal altruism.

A New Perspective

Dr. Conde emphasized that Tina’s case is groundbreaking.

It shows an individual receiving help without being able to reciprocate, proving the existence of true altruism among Neanderthals.

This discovery paints a new, more empathetic picture of our ancient relatives.

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