Neanderthals did NOT have hunched backs: New study on ancient spine of older male individual discovered in France shows their posture was much like modern humans’
- Study re-analyzed spine and pelvis of Neanderthal individual found in France
- Male individual is estimated to have died while in his 60s or 70s, researchers say
- Ideas on Neanderthal spine have varied from hunched backs to unusually flat
- But, researchers say new findings confirm that their posture was like humans’
A new analysis on the vertebrae and pelvis of Neanderthal remains discovered in France during the early 1900s hopes to finally put an end to the debate on their posture.
Throughout the decades, our understanding of the Neanderthal’s stature has varied dramatically; while early reconstructions suggested the ancestor stood with a hunch, others have imagined their spines as straighter than the modern human’s.
But, more recent research has indicated that their spinal curvature may actually have been a lot like our own.
Re-analysis of the La Chapelle-aux-Saints Neanderthal has added even more support to the interpretation that their anatomy was much like that of modern humans’, finding that the spinal curvature fell within the normal human range.
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Early studies suggested Neanderthals stood with a hunch (as shown on left). A new study shows that their spinal curvature was similar to our own. The Neanderthal spine is shown on right, superimposed on a scan of the modern human back to highlight their similarity
‘After more than a century of alternative views, it should be apparent that there is nothing in Neanderthal pelvic or vertebral morphology that rejects their possession of spinal curvatures well within the ranges of variation of healthy recent humans,’ the researchers argue in the new study.
In the paper published to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team used a pelvic reconstruction to investigate the curvature in the spine of the La Chapelle-aux-Saints individual.
The partial skeleton was discovered in 1908, and is said to represent an older male in his sixties or seventies at the time of death.
Given his advanced age, the researchers say it was likely the Neanderthal individual suffered osteoarthritis and other age-related degeneration.
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The cervical spine can be seen superimposed over a modern human scan, revealing a similar curvature
Using the reconstructions, the team examined the angle of the pelvis in relation to the spine, along with the articulations of the cervical and lumbar vertebrae.
And, they found this to be pretty similar to our own.
On both accounts, the team says the Neanderthal individual’s spinal curvature fell within the range of normal human posture, with the effects of the degenerative diseases considered.
This, they say, is further supported by other Neanderthal bone discoveries.
According to the researchers, the latest findings add yet another piece of evidence to support Neanderthals’ anatomical similarity to modern humans.
‘This reconsideration of the La Chapelle-aux-Saints remains, as related to vertebral posture and pathology, should emphasize what was accepted half-a-century ago but has been questioned as the relationship between the Neandertals and modern humans has become (uncomfortably to some) close,’ the researchers write.
‘Despite the evident morphological contrasts, there is little, paleontologically or archeologically, to indicate differences in basic functional anatomy and behavioral capabilities between them and their Late Pleistocene modern human neighbors.’
The partial skeleton (skull shown left) was discovered in 1908, and is said to represent an older male in his sixties or seventies at the time of death. Given his advanced age, the researchers say it was likely the Neanderthal suffered osteoarthritis and other age-related degeneration
Throughout the decades, our understanding of the Neanderthal’s stature has varied dramatically. But, recent research has indicated that their spinal curvature may actually have been a lot like our own. A graphic of human evolution is shown (Neanderthal second to last)
WHO WERE THE NEANDERTHALS?
The Neanderthals were a close human ancestor that mysteriously died out around 50,000 years ago.
The species lived in Africa with early humans for hundreds of millennia before moving across to Europe around 500,000 years ago.
They were later joined by humans taking the same journey some time in the past 100,000 years.
The Neanderthals were a cousin species of humans but not a direct ancestor – the two species split from a common ancestor – that perished around 50,000 years ago. Pictured is a Neanderthal museum exhibit
These were the original ‘cavemen’, historically thought to be dim-witted and brutish compared to modern humans.
In recent years though, and especially over the last decade, it has become increasingly apparent we’ve been selling Neanderthals short.
A growing body of evidence points to a more sophisticated and multi-talented kind of ‘caveman’ than anyone thought possible.
It now seems likely that Neanderthals buried their dead with the concept of an afterlife in mind.
Additionally, their diets and behaviour were surprisingly flexible.
They used body art such as pigments and beads, and they were the very first artists, with Neanderthal cave art (and symbolism) in Spain apparently predating the earliest modern human art by some 20,000 years.
The researchers say the La Chapelle-aux-Saints individual stands as ‘direct anatomical evidence’ that the Neanderthal’s spinal curvature would have resulted in a posture much like that seen in humans today.
Other interpretations, they argue, are just an effort to further distinguish humans from our ancestors, despite the evidence suggesting otherwise.
‘It is therefore time to move beyond making Neandertals less human,’ the researchers write, ‘and focus on the subtle shifts in Late Pleistocene human biology and behavior.’
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