Scientists have found that the human temporal lobes, involved in language, memory and social functions as well as the olfactory bulbs are relatively larger in Homo sapiens than in Neanderthals.
This suggest that compared to Neanderthals, modern humans have a better sense of smell.
In the study, led by Markus Bastir and Antonio Rosas, of the Spanish Natural Science Museum (CSIC), high-tech medical imaging techniques were used to access internal structures of fossil human skulls.
“The structures which receive olfactory input are approximately 12per cent larger in modern humans than in Neanderthals,” the authors noted.
These findings may have important implications for olfactory capacity and human behaviour. In modern humans the size of the olfactory bulbs is related to the capacity of detection and discrimination of different smells.
Olfaction is among the oldest sense in vertebrates.
“Also, it is the only one that establishes a direct connection between the brain and its environment,” said Bastir, the lead author of the study.
While other senses must pass through different cortical filters, olfaction goes from the environment right into the highest centres of the brain.
What is more, “olfaction never sleeps”, added Rosas, “because we always breathe and perceive smells”.
The study has been published this week by Nature Communications.