Did Neanderthals speak?

Credit: Mara ~earth light~ free potential

The description of a Neanderthal hyoid from Kebara Cave (Israel) in 1989 fuelled scientific debate on the evolution of speech and complex language. Gross anatomy of the Kebara 2 hyoid differs little from that of modern humans. However, whether Homo neanderthalensis could use speech or complex language remains controversial. Here we show that the Neanderthal and modern human hyoids also present very similar internal architectures and micro-biomechanical behaviours.

Neanderthal hyoid bone used in this study. Credit: D’Anastasio et al. 2013 PLOS ONE.

Our study incorporates detailed analysis of histology, meticulous reconstruction of musculature, and computational biomechanical analysis with models incorporating internal micro-geometry. For this project, I was responsible for processing the CT scans and creating the 3D finite element models and interpreting the stress distribution results. These finite element models incorporated muscle attachments, placed and oriented the same way as that found in modern human hyoids.

Internal structure of Neanderthal hyoid bone using CT scans. Credit: D’Anastasio et al. 2013 PLOS ONE.

Because internal architecture reflects the loadings to which a bone is routinely subjected, our findings are consistent with a capacity for speech in the Neanderthals.

PUBLICATION

D’Anastasio R, Wroe S, Tuniz C, Arensburge B, Mancini L, Cesana DT, Dreossi D, Ravichandiran M, Attard MRG, Parr W, Agur A. (2013) Micro-Biomechanics of the Kebara 2 Hyoid and Its Implications for Speech in Neanderthals. PLOS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0082261.

Affiliations

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