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First description of the Cro-Magnon 1 endocast and study of brain variation and evolution in anatomically modern Homo sapiens

Première description de l’endocrâne de Cro-Magnon 1 et étude de la variation et de l’évolution du cerveau chez les Hommes anatomiquement modernes

Abstract

Paleoneurology is an important research field for studies of human evolution. Variations in the size and shape of the endocranium are a useful means of distinguishing between different hominin species, while brain asymmetry is related to behaviour and cognitive capacities. The evolution of the hominin brain is well documented and substantial literature has been produced on this topic, mostly from studies of endocranial casts, or endocasts. However, we have only little information about variations in endocranial form, size and shape in fossil anatomically modern Homo sapiens (AMH) and about the evolution of the brain since the emergence of our species. One good illustration of this limited knowledge is that one of the first fossil H. sapiens discovered, in 1868, that is also one of the oldest well-preserved European specimen has never been studied in what concerns its endocranial morphology. The first aim of this study was to propose a detailed description of the endocranial anatomy of Cro-Magnon 1, using imaging methodologies, including an original methodology to quantify endocranial asymmetries. The second aim was to compare samples of the fossil and extant AMH in order to document differences in the form, size and shape of the endocasts. A decrease in absolute endocranial size since the Upper Palaeolithic was noticeable. Although both extant and older endocrania have the same anatomical layout, we nonetheless found non-allometric differences in the relative size and organization of different parts of the brain. These document previously unknown intraspecific anatomical variations in the H. sapiens brain, demonstrating its plasticity, with some areas (frontal and occipital lobes) having been more subject to variation than others (parietal, temporal or cerebellar lobes). That may be due to constraints to maintain an optimal performance while reducing in size and changing in shape during our recent evolution.

Résumé

La paléoneurologie est un champ de recherche important dans le cadre des études sur l’évolution humaine. Les variations de taille et de forme de l’endocrâne sont en effet utiles pour différencier les différentes espèces d’homininés, alors que les asymétries cérébrales sont reliées au comportement et aux capacités cognitives. Pourtant, notre connaissance de l’évolution et de la variation du cerveau d’Homo sapiens, depuis l’apparition de notre espèce, est très lacunaire. Dans un premier temps, nous détaillons l’anatomie et les asymétries (en proposant une méthode innovante de quantification de ces dernières) de l’endocrâne de Cro-Magnon 1, un des représentants européens les mieux conservés et les plus anciens des Hommes anatomiquement modernes, qui n’avait encore pu être analysé. Puis, une étude comparative entre un échantillon de spécimens fossiles et actuels d’Homo sapiens est effectuée. Bien qu’un substrat anatomique commun soit présent, certaines différences de taille et d’organisation ont été observées entre ces deux échantillons. Ces résultats illustrent la plasticité du cerveau au sein de notre espèce et documentent une variabilité anatomique encore inconnue.

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Balzeau, A., Grimaud-Hervé, D., Détroit, F. et al. First description of the Cro-Magnon 1 endocast and study of brain variation and evolution in anatomically modern Homo sapiens . Bull. Mém. Soc. Anthropol. 25, 1–18 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13219-012-0069-z

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Keywords

  • Endocasts
  • Homo sapiens
  • Cro-Magnon
  • Brain evolution
  • Paleoneurology
  • Asymmetry

Mots clés

  • Endocrânes
  • Homo sapiens
  • Cro-Magnon
  • Évolution cérébrale
  • Paléoneurologie
  • Asymétrie