Saturday, 21 December 2013

BBC: Neanderthals could speak like modern humans, study suggests

Fantastic painting by James Gurney
A new article about language evolution has been published by the BBC, on Neanderthals and speech:

In the 80s, a Neanderthal burial was uncovered in Kebara Cave, Israel, which was complete enough as to include a hyoid bone, the only free-floating bone in the human body.  

The hyoid is is a bone positioned at the base of the tongue root in humans.  In Australopithecines, the hyoid lacks the scoop shape of modern humans.  This Neanderthal hyoid, however, was just like modern humans.

The other day, PLOS One published a new article on the Kebara hyoid: 

The BBC article linked above described the article as arguing for Neanderthals having speech just like modern humans - which I find a bit of a stretch, since a quote from the abstract is:

"Similarity in overall shape does not necessarily demonstrate that the Kebara 2 hyoid was used in the same way as that of Homo sapiens... Because internal architecture reflects the loadings to which a bone is routinely subjected, our findings are consistent with a capacity for speech in the Neanderthals."

So their findings are 'consistent' with the idea of Neanderthal complex speech, but the morphology isn't a demonstration of it like the BBC would print in its headlines.

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