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Am J Hum Biol. 2002 Sep-Oct;14(5):566-83.

Neandertal cold adaptation: physiological and energetic factors.

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Department of Anthropology, 380 MFAC, SUNY Buffalo, Buffalo, New York 14261, USA.


European Neandertals employed a complex set of physiological cold defenses, homologous to those seen in contemporary humans and nonhuman primates. While Neandertal morphological patterns, such as foreshortened extremities and low relative surface-area, may have explained some of the variance in cold resistance, it is suggested the adaptive package was strongly dependent on a rich array of physiological defenses. A summary of the environmental cold conditions in which the Neandertals lived is presented, and a comparative ethnographic model from Tierra del Fuego is used. Muscle and subcutaneous fat are excellent "passive" insulators. Neandertals were quite muscular, but it is unlikely that they could maintain enough superficial body fat to offer much cold protection. A major, high-energy metabolic adaptation facilitated by modest amounts of highly thermogenic brown adipose tissue (BAT) is proposed. In addition, Neandertals would have been protected by general mammalian cold defenses based on systemic vasoconstriction and intensified by acclimatization, aerobic fitness, and localized cold--induced vasodilation. However, these defenses are energetically expensive. Based on contemporary data from circumpolar peoples, it is estimated that Neandertals required 3,360 to 4,480 kcal per day to support strenuous winter foraging and cold resistance costs. Several specific genetic cold adaptations are also proposed--heat shock protein (actually, stress shock protein), an ACP*1 locus somatic growth factor, and a specialized calcium metabolism not as yet understood.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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