Cranial discrete traits may be regarded as markers of dynamic responses to general and local perturbations of the morphogenetic pattern, particularly when they are viewed and examined in terms of hypostosis vs. hyperostosis. There are indications, in fact, that the variation between these two opposite conditions relates to mechanical stress suffered by the bony structures during early stages of growth and development. In a previous comparison between Neanderthals and modern humans, variable degrees and contrasting distribution patterns of hypostosis were found [Manzi et al. (1996), JHE30: 511-527]. In the present paper, the occurrence, expression and cranial distribution of 20 hypo-hyperostotic traits are examined in the Middle Pleistocene sample from Atapuerca - Sima de los Huesos (Spain), with the principal aim being to test whether or not the degree of cranial hypostosis increases during the evolution of the Neanderthals. Other Middle Pleistocene representatives of the genus Homo (Kabwe and Petralona), the Italian Neanderthals, and a large recent European sample are also considered. A general consistency between the gradual appearance and stabilization of the Neanderthal cranial features and the results of the present analysis is found and is interpreted as an indication that hypostosis does mark the occurrence of "ontogenetic stress". As suggested more than half a century ago by S. Sergi, an increase in "ontogenetic stress" in the Neanderthal lineage could result from the relationship between intracranial pressures and other (heterochronic) effects produced by the growth of a large brain (encephalization) and the ossification of an archaic (platycephalic) cranial vault.