Neanderthal Debate Club? The Ancients Spoke Just Like Us Says Study

Imagine walking into an ancient cave man debate club or celebrity roast, where witty jabs and puns were delivered to the most famous among the Neanderthal tribes; or how about a heated and intellectual debate about the pressing issues of the day? Perhaps the topics would be centered on where to find the best spears for hunting or who had the best cave drawings. While it’s been thought for a long time that Neanderthals possessed some form of communication, a new study says that these ancients may have actually had very a complex language and might have spoken just like us.

In a study published in the science journal PLOS One, it was revealed that Neanderthals used a bone in their throat called the hyboid very similarly to the way modern humans use the same structure. The complete study is entitled Micro-Biomechanics of the Kebara 2 Hyoid and Its Implications for Speech in Neanderthals.
Scientists were able to figure out that the hyboid bone was similar in appearance to ours, and that it was able to move and function in the same way. The researchers used computers and 3-D modeling techniques to figure out the relationship of the hyboid bone to its surrounding structures in the throat. The results, they say, mean that Neanderthals could be considered human. University of New England Scientist Stephen Wroe explains:

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

This latest finding tops of a week of exciting discoveries about Neanderthals and their lifestyles. Earlier this week, it was revealed that this species had multiple affairs with closely related family members due to the choices of mates being so limited. Prior to that discovery, a study was released showing that Neanderthals buried their dead and that they had more complex cognitive abilities than thought previously.

In the case of the hyboid bone and Neanderthal speech, the idea of their having systems of language has been a matter of controversy until recently. The Neanderthal hyboid bone used in the study has been around since 1989, but it was during the most recent research that computer simulations allowed scientists to make a working 3-D model of the bone and the rest of the bones and ligaments in the throat. The hyboid bone is shaped like a U and it supports the tongue’s base.

The study strongly suggests that Neanderthals spoke just like us, but can’t tell us of what their conversation topics would have consisted. Would they have formed a debate club? Perhaps a salon would have been more to their liking. What would a Neanderthal tete-a-tete be like? If a modern human strolled into an ancient cave, we probably shouldn’t expect high tea served on a three tiered platter, but who knows? Perhaps we could have found at least a little bit of common ground to discuss.

By: Rebecca Savastio


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