The new study, published in the Journal of Human Evolution, began by reviewing the collections found during excavations at La Ferrassie in France between 1970 and 1973.

The archaeological site at La Ferrassie is where seven Neanderthal skeletons, ranging from foetuses to almost complete skeletons of adults, were found. Remains of a skull, jaw, vertebrae, ribs and hand phalanges were found among the new fossils.

Featuring among the remains was a left temporal bone and an auditory ossicle was found inside it - a complete stapes (a small stirrup-shaped bone in the middle ear).

This stapes is the most complete one in the Neanderthal record and certifies that there are morphological differences between our species and the Neanderthals even in the smallest ossicles in the human body.

Virtual 3D reconstruction techniques enabled this ossicle to be extracted virtually and studied."We do not yet know the relation between these morphological differences and hearing in the Neanderthals.

This would constitute a new challenge for the future," said researcher Asier Gomez-Olivencia from the University of the Basque Country in Spain. The Neanderthals inhabited Europe and parts of western Asia between 230,000 and 28,000 years ago. During the last few millennia, they coincided with our species - Homo Sapiens - and then became extinct for uncertain reasons.


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