Whether or not Neanderthals can speak has been studied for more than five decades – and is still being researched because apparently no one can give a definitive answer to the question. It is clear that our human relatives were capable of very complex cultural feats, which one could hardly imagine how they would have been possible without very effective communication with one another. Neanderthals were also not genetically disenfranchised compared to modern humans when it came to the known basic requirements for speech in the genome. On the other hand, some ancient studies questioned whether the anatomy of Neanderthals was at all appropriate for producing speech sounds – for example because the larynx was higher than the anatomy of modern humans. At the very least, it was possible that the older species could produce a wide variety of sounds – but whether it could pass as a powerful language remained a matter of dispute.
A team led by Mercedes Conde Valverde of the University of Alcalá in Madrid has now dealt with the problem from a different angle: Researchers have tried to find out if Neanderthals could hear complex language content quite well – if that was the case, it would make sense that he could also use and use this property. So the group looked around Condi Valverde at the acoustics inside a typical Neanderthal human inner ear. Results and conclusions Presented in Nature Ecology and Evolution.
A precise 3D analysis of the inner ear allows us to deduce how the acoustic energy transfer works in this ear. Transmission performance (acoustic power transmission, SPT) depends greatly on the dimensions of the individual sound spaces in the ear, which break down, dampen and purify the sound – and provides information about how advanced individual sound frequencies are when sound penetrates from the ear. Out through the middle ear and overlap until it reaches the entrance to the cochlea. From this, you can now also deduce the bandwidth that the ear is targeting, i.e. the tones which work well. It can be assumed that it is at this frequency range that important things happen to the organism: the anatomically speaking Homo sapiens For example, it listens more precisely to those frequencies at which the ear is tuned anatomically and which human language encodes its information. The wider the enhanced frequency range, the audible differences can be hidden in it – and the more important content is allowed in the audio code.
In chimpanzees, but also in many ancient human ancestors like this one Australopithecus africanus And the Paranthropus robustus The inner ears are not designed to properly resolve the frequency range of speech. Actually, the ears Homo heidelbergensis From the Middle Paleolithic Age, equally gifted in listening to language. And the ears of Neanderthals?
Mercedes Conde-Valverde and her team have now conducted new 3D scans of the inner ear of five Neanderthals and compared the sound transmission in these ears with those in the ears of modern humans, older hominins and chimpanzees. The result was clear: the bandwidth of human and Neanderthals does not differ significantly, and the bandwidth of other species can be recognized.
So Neanderthals can hear speech just like we humans – with an acoustic sensor that tunes optimally to particularly relevant frequencies. Unlike, for example, ears Homo heidelbergensis From the Sima de los Huesos Cave, Neanderthals also have frequencies of four to five kilohertz in the optimum frequency range of the inner ear. Neanderthals’ frequency range is also as wide as that of humans.