Neanderthal faces were not adapted to cold

Jan 17, 2011 by Lin Edwards report
First reconstruction of Neanderthal man. Image: Ther Neanderthaler Fund. Publisher: Marcus, Bonn. Via Wikipedia.

(PhysOrg.com) -- New research into Neanderthal skulls suggests that facial features believed for over a century to be adaptations to extreme cold are unlikely to have evolved in response to glacial periods after all.

Neanderthal faces had prominent cheekbones and wide noses previously thought to have developed in extremely cold periods because large sinuses were needed to warm air as it was inhaled. One problem with this theory is that modern people such as the Inuits, and other mammals living in Arctic regions have not developed large sinuses, and their sinuses are often smaller, and another problem is that it has never been proven that Neanderthal sinuses were larger.

A team led by Dr Todd C. Rae from the Centre for Research in at Roehampton University in the UK took previously published measurements of X-Rays and new data from three-dimensional (3D) (CT) scans of nine Neanderthal skulls, all dated at over 28,000 years old. They then collected measurements from four Homo sapiens skulls from in Lithuania and dated from 300 to 1,500 years old. They compared the two sets of measurements to determine how large the sinuses of actually were.

They used medieval Homo sapiens skulls rather than present-day skulls because they wanted data from a period before air conditioning and central heating, which could have affected the results.

The results showed the Neanderthals did have larger sinuses than Homo sapiens, but the relationship between the size of the face and the size of the sinuses was the same in both species. This suggests the were not related to adaptation to cold.

Dr Rae said the results mean the idea of the faces being an adaptation to cold could now be dismissed, which he said “allows us to think about Neanderthals and their lives in new ways.” He said there had long been a view of Neanderthals as living on frozen tundra in the last glaciation, but it was more likely that they lived in temperate refuges, eating fruit and berries as well as meat.

Dr Rae said attributing many of their physical traits to to extreme cold do not make any sense and a picture of them as a temperate creature fits the data better. He speculated that if Neanderthals were confined to warmer regions their populations could have been too isolated and small to survive the worst of the glacial times.

Neanderthal fossils are found throughout Europe and parts of Asia. Recent research has found they used sophisticated tools, cooked their food, which included grains, vegetables and berries, and they may also have been able to speak.

The paper is published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Explore further: Remains of French ship being reassembled in Texas

More information: The Neanderthal face is not cold adapted, Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 60, Issue 2, February 2011, Pages 234-239. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2010.10.003

Related Stories

Handsome by Chance

Aug 02, 2007

Chance, not natural selection, best explains why the modern human skull looks so different from that of its Neanderthal relative, according to a new study led by Tim Weaver, assistant professor of anthropology at UC Davis.

Neanderthals more advanced than previously thought

Sep 21, 2010

For decades scientists believed Neanderthals developed `modern' tools and ornaments solely through contact with Homo sapiens, but new research from the University of Colorado Denver now shows these sturdy ...

Study finds Neanderthals ate their veggies

Dec 27, 2010

A US study on Monday found that Neanderthals, prehistoric cousins of humans, ate grains and vegetables as well as meat, cooking them over fire in the same way homo sapiens did.

Scientists redate Neanderthal fossils

Jan 05, 2006

Scientists say two Neanderthal fossils excavated from Vindija Cave in Croatia in 1998 may be 3,000-4,000 years older than originally thought.

Recommended for you

Remains of French ship being reassembled in Texas

Oct 24, 2014

A frigate carrying French colonists to the New World that sank in a storm off the Texas coast more than 300 years ago is being reassembled into a display that archeologists hope will let people walk over ...

User comments : 6

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

xznofile
1 / 5 (1) Jan 17, 2011
is it possible that wider faces were evolved to contain bigger sinuses? that could explain the relative similarity between face sizes & sinuses
natetuvkok
not rated yet Jan 18, 2011
or the sinuses were developed for a warmer climate than the place they died in,its hard to tell evolution takes so long compared to what we know as a whole
natetuvkok
not rated yet Jan 18, 2011
time compared to evolution, we just don't know it all yet lol
444
not rated yet Jan 18, 2011
When they made the facial sinus comparison did they use Caucasian Europeans who themselves may be cold adapted? I suggest they make the comparison using Negroes too, who come from tropical Africa and probably are not cold adapted. Also European may have Neanderthal or other cold climate archaic genes in them where as Negroids may not.
Terrible_Bohr
not rated yet Jan 18, 2011
When they made the facial sinus comparison did they use Caucasian Europeans who themselves may be cold adapted? I suggest they make the comparison using Negroes too, who come from tropical Africa and probably are not cold adapted. Also European may have Neanderthal or other cold climate archaic genes in them where as Negroids may not.

It says in the article that the sample skulls were from Lithuania, dated from 300 - 1500 years old.

I really doubt most Europeans would have cold-adpated sinuses, though, given the contrast of the present climate from the last glacial period.
Razna
not rated yet Jan 21, 2011
Paleoanthropologists already have determined that the direction of evolution was from large faces (implying large sinuses) in archaic populations to small faces (implying small sinuses) in modern populations. All earlier hominins have relatively large faces compared to modern humans.