An analysis of a Neanderthal\’s fossilised hyoid bone – a horseshoe-shaped structure in the neck – suggests the species had the ability to speak.
This has been suspected since the 1989 discovery of a Neanderthal hyoid that looks just like a modern human\’s.
But now computer modelling of how it works has shown this bone was also used in a very similar way.
Writing in journal Plos One, scientists say its study is \”highly suggestive\” of complex speech in Neanderthals.
This article talks about new evidence that Neanderthals could speak, and could speak fluently. And since we and Neanderthals forked evolutionarily some 400,000 years ago, it implies that speech and language is at least that old.
This doesn’t particularly surprise me. While I’ve read about a lot of theories that speech was only around 50,000 or so years old, that’s never made a lot of sense to me for a few reasons.
- Speech and language is a well developed feature. The idea that it sprang out of nowhere a few tens of thousands of years ago, without a lot of time going through intermediary stages seems implausible.
- Monkeys communicate with each other about predators and such with various screeches. These screeches aren’t language in the sense of having sentences and semantics, but they are communication and very much strike me as early protolanguage. A stage our remote ancestors probably went through.
- Part of our anatomy seems evolved for speech, and now it looks like part of Neanderthal anatomy is too. We also have parts of our brain dedicated to speech and understanding language. Evolution of these features took time. Of course, these could be repurposed functions, but then what were the original functions?
All of this, it seems to me, points to speech being very ancient. The Neanderthal evidence seems to push it back at least half a million years. My own (admittedly inexpert) intuition is that speech development probably ran more or less in parallel with the development of sophisticated tools, meaning it developed gradually over millions of years.
- Could Neanderthals talk? (evoanth.wordpress.com)
- Neanderthals buried their dead (southofheaven.typepad.com)
- Scientists suggest that Neanderthals used languages similar to ours (nbcnews.com)
- Neanderthals Talked Like Us? (secretsofthefed.com)