I want to study Paleoneurology, but what is it?

Written with the assistance of the “New Bing”

Paleoneurology is a fascinating field of study that explores the evolution of the brain by analyzing fossilized brain impressions, also known as endocasts. By comparing the shape, size, and features of endocasts from different species and time periods, Paleoneurologists can infer how the brain changed over time and what factors influenced its development. In this blog post, I will briefly introduce paleoneurology and how it can help us understand our human origins.

One of paleoneurology’s main goals is to reconstruct our ancestors’ brain morphology and function, especially those belonging to the genus Homo. The earliest member of this genus is Homo habilis, which lived about 2.4 to 1.4 million years ago in Africa. Homo habilis is considered the first human-like species, as it had a larger brain, smaller teeth, and more advanced stone tools than its predecessors. However, its brain was still much smaller than ours, with an average volume of about 600 cubic centimeters (cc), compared to about 1400 cc for modern humans.

How did Homo habilis’ brain differ from ours regarding structure and cognition? To answer this question, Paleoneurologists use various methods and tools to examine the endocasts of Homo habilis fossils. For example, they can measure the overall shape and proportions of the braincase and the location and size of specific regions such as the frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital lobes. They can also look for signs of sulci and gyri, which are the folds and grooves that increase the surface area of the cortex. Additionally, they can use techniques such as computed tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to create three-dimensional models of the endocasts and visualize their internal features.

By comparing the endocasts of Homo habilis with those of other primates and humans, Paleoneurologists can make inferences about their cognitive abilities and behavior. For instance, they can estimate their intelligence level by calculating their encephalization quotient (EQ), which is a measure of brain size relative to body size. They can also assess their language skills by looking for evidence of Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, which are regions involved in speech production and comprehension. Furthermore, they can evaluate their social complexity by examining their prefrontal cortex, which is associated with executive functions such as planning, decision-making, and self-control.

Paleoneurology is a challenging but rewarding discipline that can shed light on our evolutionary history and our uniquely human traits. By studying the fossil record of our ancestors’ brains, we can learn more about how they lived, thought, and interacted with their environment. Paleoneurology is also a dynamic field that constantly incorporates new discoveries and technologies to refine its methods and hypotheses. As more fossils are found and more data are collected, we can expect to gain a deeper and more accurate understanding of our human origins.


– Bruner E., Beaudet A. (2023). The brain of Homo habilis: Three decades of paleoneurology. Journal of Human Evolution, 174: 103281. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2022.103281

– Paleoneurobiology – Wikipedia (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2023 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleoneurobiology

– Hofman M.A., Falk D. (2014). Evolution of the Brain in Humans – Paleoneurology. In: Jaeger J.J., Jungers W.L., editors. Encyclopedia of Life Sciences (eLS). Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470015902.a0003152.pub2

Published by sethchagi

I am a Paleoanthropology Student, so far with two degrees, in Anthropology and Human Behavioral Science, pursuing my B.A and then my PhD I love to read (like a lot) and write, I love my family, and I adore anthropology! Remember, never stop exploring and never stop learning! There is always more to learn!

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