New research suggests that the voice of Neanderthals sound familiar to that of humans.

Neanderthals are often perceived as these savage human-like creatures that aren’t civilized as much as that of humans, and that’s not fair at all. What if you met a Neanderthal, you’d think they’d say something like “Yabba dabba doo” as a gesture of greeting. ‘The Flintstone’s’ messed your mind as a kid. However, new studies of analyzed Neanderthal fossilized hyoid bone — a horseshoe-shaped structure in the neck — suggests the species had the ability to speak. 

Related media: What If The Neanderthals Had Not Gone Extinct?

Hey There! How Do You Do?

In 1989, the discovery of a Neanderthal hyoid bone in the Kebara Cave in Israel that’s quite like that of modern human’s led to this intriguing research that Neanderthals could have been speaking. Its just like thinking that all birds have feathers and thus they all ought to fly, and that’s not all that true, either. However, modern computer modeling has proven that this hyoid bone served a very similar purpose. In an article published in the Journal for the Public Library Of Science One (PLOS One), scientists say their find is “high suggestive” that Neanderthals had speech.

The hyoid bone is really crucial for vocal speaking — it’s the main support of the tongue. But in other non-human primates, it’s not positioned well to support vocalization as that of humans, it just supports sound-making. An international team of scientist with the aid of three-dimensional (3D) x-ray imaging and mechanical modeling, sought to analyze a fossilized Neanderthal hyoid bone, and unravel the mystery. Their model allowed them to analyze how the hyoid behaved in relation with other bones.

“We would argue that this is a very significant step forward. It shows that the Kebara 2 hyoid doesn’t just look like those of modern humans — it was used in a very similar way.” Professor Stephen Wroe of the University of New England, Armidale, New South Wales, Australia, told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) News.

He explained that this has not only changed our understanding of Neanderthals, but also of ourselves.

“Many would argue that our capacity for speech and language is among the most fundamental of characteristics that make us human,” he says. “If Neanderthals also had language then they were truly human, too.”

Yabba Dabba Doo

It is commonly believed that humans didn’t evolve complex language until roughly 100,000 years ago, and that Homo sapiens were the only species capable of speech. The 1989 discovery might have found something quite similar to our own; and much older hyoid fossils were recently found in Spain and are over 500,000 years old, ones that are attributed to the human and Neanderthal relative — Homo heidelbergensis.

However, these hyoid fossils are yet to be modeled, but Prof Wroe said that they were likely to be very similar to those found in most people today. There could be still be the likelihood of speech among Neanderthals, but further analysis is needed to conclude at that.

“We were very careful not to suggest that we had proven anything beyond doubt, but I do think it will help to convince a good number of specialists and tip the weight of opinion.” He added that his work would not necessarily be accepted as proof that Neanderthals spoke.

“Neanderlands,” Sounds Familiar?

As a matter of fact, the stereotypical Neanderthal was stockier and quite shorter than the average modern human, having backsliding foreheads with no jaws. They are often not seen as our direct ancestors, but Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) analysis in recent time revealed that one percent of the Eurasian human genome come from Neanderthals. Like huh? The myth that we interbred might be true, after all.

In a 2019 study review published in the Journal Frontiers, Dr Dan Dediu from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands suggested that Neanderthals and modern humans shared a similar capacity for language. He claims their study threw more light on the hyoid bone of Neanderthals and humans, “not only in form but also in what concerns their mechanical properties.”

“The authors themselves are understandably cautious in drawing strong conclusions, but I think that their work clearly supports the contention that speech and language is an old feature of our lineage going back at least to the last common ancestor that we shared with the Neanderthals,” he told the BBC News.

He later emphasized that their latest study was a necessary stepping stone for more future work on other living primates, and to better our understand the range of variation within modern humans. If someone ever calls you a Neanderthal, don’t get too offended. They could speak out!

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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Wed, Jul 17, 2019.


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