This article is from WeChat official account:Principle (ID: principle1687), author: Takeko, Photo: Wenwen child, drawing from the head: “Planet of the Apes”


Fossils are a gift from history to the present. From tiny ancient creatures to human ancestors, for a long time, scientists have spied stories that happened on Earth in the past from fossils.

But how do we know the stories that fossils cannot directly record, such as sound, voice, language, etc.? What was the hearing of human ancestors, and what was their language ability? For decades, there has been a core question in the study of human evolution: Does human communication (speech) also exist in other ancient human species? On this issue, our close relatives, Neanderthals, are particularly concerned.

In fact, these studies are still inseparable from fossils. Although fossils cannot directly record the pronunciation of our ancestors, anatomy can provide us with more information. Recently, a new study published by an interdisciplinary international team provides a decisive answer to Neanderthals’ listening and speech abilities. With the help of reconstruction technology, research has found that Neanderthals have hearing and speech similar to Homo sapiens(speech)< /span>Ability.

3D models and virtual reconstructions of ears of modern people (left) and Neanderthals (right). | Picture source: Mercedes Conde-Valverde/Binghamton University


The evolution of speech is a well-known thorny problem in anthropology. In the new research, scientists have used more technical means to unearth hidden information from behind the fossils.

With the help of high-resolution CT scans of skull fossils, the research team first reconstructed a virtual three-dimensional model of the outer and middle ear cavity structures of Homo sapiens and Neanderthals.

Anatomical reconstruction of Neanderthal’s outer ear and middle ear cavity. | Picture source: Conde-Valverde et al. / Nature Ecology & Evolution

At the same time, they also carried out similar reconstruction work on a group of ancient humans found at the Atapuerca site in Spain. These ancient humans are considered to be the ancestors of Neanderthals and can be compared with Neanderthals in depth.

Subsequently, the data collected on the 3D model is input into a software simulation developed in the field of auditory bioengineering, which can be used to estimate hearing capabilities up to 5 kHz, including most of the frequencies of modern human speech range. Simulations show that compared with their ancestors, Neanderthals’ hearing is between 4 and 5 kHz, which is more similar to modern people.

In addition, researchers can also calculate the frequency range of maximum sensitivity for each species, which is the so-called “occupied bandwidth.” Occupying bandwidth is one of the keys in a communication system. The wider the bandwidth, the more a species communicates verbally.The more audible signals that can be used and easily distinguished in the video, which in turn can improve the efficiency of communication, that is, the ability to transmit clear information in the shortest time. Compared with the ancestors from Atapuerka, Neanderthals showed a wider bandwidth, which is also more similar to modern people.

Another interesting result of the research is that Neanderthals’ hearing is optimized towards consonants, that is, pronunciations such as s, k, t, and th. Their speech may include an increase in the use of consonants.

Previous research on Neanderthals’ speech abilities mostly focused on the main vowels. However, it is easy to be overlooked that the use of consonants is a way to include more information in the sound signal It also distinguishes human speech and language from almost all other primate communication modes.

Researchers believe that these results are very critical-hearing ability comparable to humans, especially similar bandwidth, shows that Neanderthals should have evolved enough hearing ability to support a kind of human speech. Complex and efficient voice communication system.


It should be noted that this is not to say that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens have the same language. In fact, we still don’t know whether Neanderthals have a language.(language).

What this result tells us is that Neanderthals have a similar vocal ability to ours, and at the same time, their ears are “tuned” to receive these frequencies. They have the necessary anatomical structures, and these “hardware” structures can already meet the needs of human speech.

In the words of research author Mercedes Conde-Valverde, if we can really hear their voices, we can recognize them as “people”. But we still don’t know whether they have enough ability to develop a language system from a mental level.

This change in Neanderthal hearing ability is also consistent with the evidence found in archaeology. Archaeological evidence shows that the behavior patterns of Neanderthals have become more and more complex over time. For example, they mastered the technology of making stone tools and used fire. Some studies have shown that they may also have begun to give things signs and symbolic meanings, expressing intangible things through tangible things. This is actually a manifestation of the level of intelligence. and thisThe results of this study provide evidence that in the process of human evolution, the increase in behavioral complexity and the efficiency of verbal communication are co-evolving.

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This article is from WeChat official account:Principle (ID: principle1687), author: Takeko, Photo: Wenwen child