Neandertal Birth

How did Neandertal women give birth? Was it easier or harder for them than it is for women today? Researchers debate Neandertal birth, but have not yet reached a consensus because the female Neandertal fossil record is very incomplete. We aren’t sure why there are fewer females than males represented in Neandertal fossils. The fact that there are makes it difficult to test hypotheses about female Neandertal behavior.

For my dissertation, I tested whether the few fragmentary female pelvic fossils we have for Neandertals differed in birth-related anatomy from females from a cold-adapted recent human sample. I took measurements I developed based on what was preserved in the female Neandertal sample. Using a statistical method called bootstrap resampling, I calculated the probability of a female Neandertal value showing up in the cold-adapted female recent humans. I found that there are areas of the pelvis where, even though the remains are fragmentary and it is therefore difficult to observe, Neandertal females differed from cold-adapted recent human females. This means that Neandertal babies had a different shaped birth canal to navigate than more recent humans, and that Neandertal birth likely differed from that of women today.

My research shows that it is possible to develop new methods to address difficult questions about human evolution. Due to the preservation of the fossil record in Neandertals, questions about Neandertal women and their behaviors are among the more difficult to answer. Yet if we want a full picture of how our ancient relatives – both male and female – behaved, these questions are among the most important to ask.

My dissertation on Neandertal birth: