Study suggests possibility neanderthals spoke like modern humans
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Neanderthals, like modern humans, had the ability to speak, a new study suggests.
An analysis of a Neanderthal's fossilised hyoid bone – a horseshoe-shaped structure in the neck - suggests the species had the ability to speak.
Researchers have suspected Neanderthals were capable of complex speech since the 1989 discovery of a Neanderthal hyoid that looks just like a modern human's.
Computer modelling of how the bone works showed it was also used in a very similar way.
The hyoid bone is crucial for speaking as it supports the root of the tongue. In non-human primates, it is not placed in the right position to vocalise like humans.
It was commonly believed that complex language did not evolve until about 100,000 years ago and that modern humans were the only ones capable of complex speech.
But that changed with the discovery of a Neanderthal hyoid bone in 1989. It was found in the Kebara Cave in Israel and is very similar to our own.
An international team of researchers analysed the bone using 3D x-ray imaging and mechanical modelling.
This model allowed the group to see how the hyoid behaved in relation to the other surrounding bones.
"We would argue that this is a very significant step forward. It shows that the Kebara 2 hyoid doesn't just look like those of modern humans - it was used in a very similar way," Stephen Wroe, from the University of New England, Armidale, New South Wales, Australia told 'BBC News'.
Much older hyoid fossils have also recently been discovered, attributed to the human and Neanderthal relative Homo heidelbergensis. They were found in Spain and are over 500,000 years old.
These have yet to be modelled, but Wroe said they were likely to be very similar to those of modern humans and Neanderthals, so could take back the origins of speech still further.
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