Re: Neanderthal "voice boxes"?

John A. Halloran (
6 Jan 1997 00:46:04 -0700

In article <> Phillip Bigelow <> writes:

>Michael Plant wrote:

>> I have also been given a (rather badly written) monograph called
>> "The Great Debate", a creationist reader for ESL students. At any rate,
>> in both the monograph and at some creationist sites there is mention of
>> recent finds of well preserved Neanderthal remains with intact voice boxes
>> "proving" that they were capable of speech.

>Not voice boxes. Hyal bones. And, no, these bones don't "prove"
>this contention, they just make the hypothesis extremely likely.

>Actually, the research you are referring to was first described in
>an issue of the journal _Nature_ from a few years ago.

On the 'Net I find that anthropologist Lyn Schepartz reported on this find
from the Kebara Cave excavation in Israel. The small hyoid bone in question
is dated to 60,000 years ago. Attached to the larynx, tongue, and base of the
skull, the hyoid bone helps to control vocal articulations. She reports that
the specimen falls within the range of variation of modern human hyoids and is
very different from that of great apes.

The principal difference between ape and human vocal tracts is still the
descent of the larynx or vocal folds down into the throat. Anyone can perform
a simple scientific experiment to confirm that high pitched sounds are made in
the upper part of the vocal tract and low pitched sounds are made in the lower
part of the vocal tract. Just make high and low sounds and attend to where
in your throat the vibration is occurring. This shows that it was important
in human selection and evolution to be able to make lower-pitched sounds. The
principal difference between male and female humans is that adult males have
longer, thicker vocal cords than do females. Low pitched sounds travel longer
distances than do high pitched sounds. Human hunters range over a wider
distance than any other animal species; they needed an efficient mechanism by
which to stay in touch with each other.


John Halloran