Last year, a study found that around 3,000 years ago the size of the human brain had shrunk. This period was called the Early to Middle Bronze Age, characterized by the early empires of the Ancient Near East, which included civilizations like Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. Researchers believed that as humans moved into modern urban societies, our ancestors’ ability to store information outdoors in social groups reduced our need to maintain large brains.
Today, a new study by researchers from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) refuted this hypothesis.
In the previous study, the researchers explored decades-old ideas about the evolutionary reduction in size of the modern human brain, based on a comparison with evolutionary patterns seen in ant colonies.
In a new paper published last week in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, the UNLV-led team studied the dataset used by the research group from last year’s study and dismissed their findings. .
Anthropologist Brian Villmoare said: “We were struck by the implications of a substantial reduction in the size of the modern human brain around 3,000 years ago, at a time of many important historical innovations and events – the appearance of the Egyptian New Kingdom, the development of Chinese writing, the Trojan War and the emergence of the Olmec civilization, among many others.
“We re-examined the DeSilva et al. data set and found that human brain size has not changed in 30,000 years, and probably not in 300,000 years.
“In fact, based on this data set, we cannot identify any reduction in brain size in modern humans over any period since the origins of our species.”
UNLV researchers have challenged a number of different DeSilva and DeSilva hypotheses. al had proposed, based on a dataset of nearly 1,000 human and museum fossil specimens.
They noted that since the rise of agriculture and complex societies occurred at different times around the world, there should have been variation in the timing of skull changes seen in different populations.
However, Professor DeSilva’s dataset only sampled 23 skulls from the critical period for the shrinking brain hypothesis and pooled specimens from places including England, China, Mali and Algeria.
The UNLV researchers noted that the dataset was heavily biased, as more than half of the 987 skulls studied were from the last 100 years of the 9.8 million year period they were investigating.
Due to the unbalanced range, the team believes that previous research did not offer a clear idea of how cranial size changes over time.
Multiple hypotheses about what causes the modern human brain to shrink in size need to be re-evaluated if the human brain has not actually changed in size since the arrival of our species.
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