Cold adaptation, heterochrony, and Neandertals
Since the writings of Clark Howell and Carleton Coon, the distinctive craniofacial and postcranial morphology of Neandertals has been associated with the frigid glacial climates of Pleistocene Europe. Direct associations between Ice-Age climate and Neandertal form have been proposed: Large noses and large paranasal sinuses, big brains, and robust, muscular bodies with barrel chests and foreshortened limbs may have been thermal adaptations to harsh glacial conditions, especially in hominids that perhaps lacked the technological sophistication to shield themselves from the cold. Indirect associations between cold climate and Neandertal morphology have also been advanced: Midfacial prognathism, dolichocephaly, occipital bunning, and other characteristics may have been the consequences of genetic drift in small populations of foragers isolated from the rest of the world by Alpine and continental ice sheets. Either way, when we think of Neandertals we think of primitive humans that endured the climatic and ecological hardships of cold periglacial Europe. Accordingly, it makes sense to think their morphology should reflect this in some important way.
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