A study* explores morphological differences in and functional properties of the ear bones of Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans (AMH). The ear bones, or ossicles, of the middle ear play an important role in auditory function, and while previous studies have identified structural differences between Neanderthal and AMH ear ossicles, the limited number of Neandertal ossicle samples has hampered detailed comparative studies. Alexander Stoessel and colleagues analyzed the ossicles of 14 Neanderthal individuals to investigate the interplay between function and morphology in Neanderthal and AMH ear ossicles. The authors used micro-CT scans and 3D shape analysis to quantify the shape and functional properties of Neanderthal ossicles and the associated tympanic cavity. Comparative analysis of AMH and Neanderthal ear anatomy revealed differences in shape and spatial configuration that the authors attribute to different evolutionary trajectories related to increases in brain size. Despite contrasting evolutionary paths, however, AMH and Neanderthal ossicle morphological differences did not affect the functional properties of the middle ear. According to the authors, the results might be indicative of consistent aspects of vocal communication in AMH and Neanderthals that were preserved and inherited from a common ancestor.
Neanderthal skull photo by Aquila Gib, Wikimedia Commons
Source: News release of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
* “Morphology and function of Neandertal and modern human ear ossicles,” Alexander Stoessel et al.
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