Pinpointing the origin and evolution of speech and human language is one of the longest running and most hotly debated topics in the scientific world. It has long been believed that other beings, including the Neanderthals with whom our ancestors shared earth for thousands of years, simply lacked the necessary cognitive capacity and vocal hardware for speech.
Associate Professor Stephen Wroe, a zoologist and palaeontologist from the University of New England in Australia along with an international team of scientists studied a 60,000 year-old Neanderthal hyoid bone – a horseshoe-shaped structure in the neck - discovered in Israel in 1989.
"To many, the Neanderthal hyoid discovered was surprising because its shape was very different to that of our closest living relatives, the chimpanzee and the bonobo," Wroe said.

"However, it was virtually indistinguishable from that of our own species. This led to some people arguing that this Neanderthal could speak. The obvious counterargument to this assertion was that the fact that hyoids of Neanderthals were the same shape as modern humans doesn't necessarily mean that they were used in the same way. With the technology of the time, it was hard to verify the argument one way or the other," Wroe said.

However, advances in 3D imaging and computer modeling allowed Wroe's team to revisit the question.

"By analyzing the mechanical behaviour of the fossilized bone with micro x-ray imaging, we were able to build models of the hyoid that included the intricate internal structure of the bone," Wroe said.

"We then compared them to models of modern humans. Our comparisons showed that in terms of mechanical behaviour, the Neanderthal hyoid was basically indistinguishable from our own, strongly suggesting that this key part of the vocal tract was used in the same way,” he said.
"From this research, we can conclude that it's likely that the origins of speech and language are far, far older than once thought," Wroe added.


Latest News from Lifestyle News Desk