The long-term trend in human evolution has been towards larger brains. Neandertals, however, had somewhat larger brains than us. It turns out that modern humans surpassed Neandertals in the development of some areas of the brain.
Nature Communications 2, Article number: 588 doi:10.1038/ncomms1593
Evolution of the base of the brain in highly encephalized human species
Markus Bastir et al.
The increase of brain size relative to body size—encephalization—is intimately linked with human evolution. However, two genetically different evolutionary lineages, Neanderthals and modern humans, have produced similarly large-brained human species. Thus, understanding human brain evolution should include research into specific cerebral reorganization, possibly reflected by brain shape changes. Here we exploit developmental integration between the brain and its underlying skeletal base to test hypotheses about brain evolution in Homo. Three-dimensional geometric morphometric analyses of endobasicranial shape reveal previously undocumented details of evolutionary changes in Homo sapiens. Larger olfactory bulbs, relatively wider orbitofrontal cortex, relatively increased and forward projecting temporal lobe poles appear unique to modern humans. Such brain reorganization, beside physical consequences for overall skull shape, might have contributed to the evolution of H. sapiens' learning and social capacities, in which higher olfactory functions and its cognitive, neurological behavioral implications could have been hitherto underestimated factors.