STUDY: NEANDERTHALS HAD MODERN TONGUES

STUDY: NEANDERTHALS HAD MODERN TONGUES

WASHINGTON, APRIL 27 (UPI) _ DUKE UNIVERSITY RESEARCHERS SAY NEANDERTHALS MAY HAVE HAD TONGUES NIMBLE ENOUGH TO RECITE SHAKESPEARE OR DELIVER AN ANTHROPOLOGY LECTURE, A NEW STUDY SUGGESTS.
IF CONFIRMED, THE FINDING COULD PUSH BACK THE DATE FOR THE START OF THE UNIQUELY HUMAN SKILL OF SPOKEN LANGUAGE BY TENS OR EVEN HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF YEARS, THE SCIENTISTS SAY.
IN THE STUDY, RESEARCHERS AT DUKE UNIVERSITY EXAMINED THE FOSSILIZED REMAINS OF THE “MAN-APE” AUSTRALOPITHECUS, NEANDERTHALS, EARLY MODERN HUMANS AS WELL AS TODAY’S HUMANS, GORILLAS AND CHIMPANZEES.
THE RESEARCHERS WERE FOCUSING ON A SMALL BONY CHANNEL _ CALLED THE HYPOGLOSSAL CANAL _ THAT CARRIES NERVES FROM THE BRAIN TO THE TONGUE.
HAVING LARGER TONGUE NERVES, THE SCIENTISTS BELIEVE, COULD MEAN A BETTER ABILITY TO FORM WORDS AND SENTENCES.
DUKE PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGIST MATT CARTMILL SAYS, “IF YOU GRANT OUR ASSUMPTIONS (NEANDERTHALS) WOULD HAVE HAD TONGUES AS NIMBLE AS YOURS.”
CARTMILL SAYS THE HYPOGLOSSAL CANAL HAD BEEN OVERLOOKED BY OTHER SCIENTISTS SEEKING FOR CLUES TO EARLY SPEECH IN FOSSILIZED JAWS, SKULLS AND OTHER PARTS OF THE VOCAL TRACT.
AUSTRALOPITHECUS, THE EARLIEST HUMANS, HAD HYPOGLOSSAL CANALS THAT WERE ABOUT ONE HALF THE SIZE OF MODERN HUMANS. APES ALSO HAVE CANALS ABOUT THAT SIZE.
BUT NEANDERTHALS, WHO LIVED FROM ABOUT 300,000 YEARS AGO AND DISAPPEARED AROUND 27,000 TO 30,000 YEARS AGO, HAD HYPOGLOSSAL CANALS ROUGHLY THE SAME SIZE AS PEOPLE TODAY. LATER HUMANS ALSO HAD LARGE HYPOGLOSSAL CANALS.
THE SCIENTISTS SAY THAT THE “ANATOMICAL FINDINGS SUGGEST THAT THE VOCAL CAPABILITIES OF NEANDERTHALS WERE THE SAME AS THOSE OF HUMANS TODAY.”
CHATTING AMONG NEANDERTHAL AND OTHER EARLY HUMANS WOULD PUSH THE ADVENT OF HUMAN SPEECH BACK BEYOND 40,000 YEARS AGO, WHEN SYMBOLS IN THE ARCHEOLOGICAL RECORDS SUGGEST SPEECH BEGAN.
THE RESEARCHERS, WHOSE WORK IS PUBLISHED IN TUESDAY’S ISSUE OF THE PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, CONDUCTED THE STUDY BY CONSTRUCTING RUBBER MOLDS #OF THE BONES.
JEFFREY LAITMAN, OF MOUNT SINAI SCHOOL OF MEDICINE IN NEW YORK CITY, SAYS THAT THE RESEARCH IS “INTERESTING AND POTENTIALLY VALUABLE NEW APPROACH.”
BUT HE ADDS, “A LOT MORE WORK IS NEEDED TO ESTABLISH THE BASIC VALIDITY OF THEIR ASSUMPTIONS” THAT HUMAN TONGUES ARE MORE FINELY CONTROLLED THAN THAT OF OTHER ANIMALS, AND IT IS A RESULT OF A LARGER NERVE.
LAITMAN, WHO INVESTIGATES THE EVOLUTION OF THE VOCAL TRACT, SAYS THERE ARE MANY DIFFERENCES IN THE BONE STRUCTURE OF MODERN HUMANS AND NEANDERTHALS.
LAITMAN SAYS, “I DON’T THINK THEY COULD SPEAK EXACTLY THE SAME AS WE CAN TODAY.”
BUT, HE ADDS, “THAT DOESN’T MEAN THAT THEY WERE LINGUISTICALLY IMPAIRED.”
NEANDERTHAL EXPERT IAN TATTERSALL, HOWEVER, SAYS, “THERE IS NO EVIDENCE” THAT THEY WERE ABLE TO CARRY ON A CONVERSATION.
TATTERSALL, CURATOR OF PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY AT THE AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, NEW YORK CITY, AND AUTHOR OF THE LAST NEANDERTHAL, SAYS THAT THE ARCHEOLOGICAL RECORD “ARGUES AGAINST SYMBOLIC THOUGHT AND LANGUAGE.”
27-04-98

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