Could Neanderthals Produce Human-Like Speech? Some Scientists Say Yes

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Have you ever wondered if our long-lost ancestors could talk like we do? Well, recent studies show that Neanderthals can actually both perceive and produce Human speech.

The study was published in 2021 and carried out by an international multidisciplinary team that investigated the development of language and linguistic skills in Neanderthals. They did this by analyzing digital reconstructions of bones in the skulls of our ancient cousins.

Rolf Kwam, professor of anthropology at Bingham University press release. “The results are robust and clearly show that Neanderthals had the ability to recognize and produce human speech. This is one of the very few current, ongoing lines of research that rely on fossil evidence to study the evolution of language, a very tricky subject in anthropology.”

For decades, a central question in the study of human evolution has been whether spoken language, a hallmark of human communication, also exists in other hominid species, particularly Neanderthals. This study allows us to draw some pretty significant conclusions to address this question.

The team relied on high-resolution CT scans to create 3D virtual models of both ear structures. A smart man and NeanderthalsAlso early fossils from AtapuercaAn archaeological site in the north of Spain.

3D reconstruction of a modern human (left) and a Neanderthal (right) ear.

Image credit: Mercedes Conde-Valverde

Then, the information generated by the 3D models was developed into a software-based model, which was developed in the field of hearing bioengineering. The software allowed the team to assess hearing down to 5 kilohertz (kHz), which corresponds to the frequency range of modern human speech. Compared to the fossils found at Attapurka, Neanderthals He showed slightly better hearing between 4-5 kHz which is similar to modern humans.

The team was able to establish the lost hominid’s “reserved bandwidth” associated with the communication system the creature could have used. For example, a wide bandwidth allows for the use of many easily distinguishable acoustic signals in a species’ oral communication system. This allows the creature to convey a clear message in a short period of time. Neanderthals show a wider bandwidth than their Attapurca ancestors, which resembles modern humans.

“That’s the key,” said Mercedes Conde Valverde, a professor at Universidad de Alcalá in Spain and lead author of the study. “The presence of similar hearing abilities, especially bandwidth, shows that Neanderthals had a complex and efficient communication system like modern human speech.”

“One of the other interesting results from the study is the idea that Neanderthal speech increased the use of consonants,” Quam said. “Previous studies of Neanderthal speech ability have focused on their ability to produce major vowels in English-speaking language. However, we feel that this emphasis is misplaced, as the use of consonants was used to include additional information in the vocal signal, and it also distinguishes human speech and Language From communication patterns in all other primates. This is a very interesting aspect of the research that our study addresses and is a new idea about the language potential in our ancestors.”

This ties in with other archaeological work that shows how our understanding of Neanderthal communication skills has evolved. Complex Their behavioral patterns included changes in stone tool technologies, domestication of fire, and symbolic practices.

“These results are particularly interesting,” said the study’s other author, Ignacio Martínez, from the Universidad de Alcalá in Spain. “After more than a hundred years of research on this question, we believe we have a conclusive answer to the question of Neanderthal speech abilities.”

The study was published in Nature, ecology and evolution.

[H/T: Science Alert]

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