Re: Archaic H. sapiens???

J E Hawcroft (
Mon, 06 Jan 1997 15:27:17 +0000

Michael McBroom wrote:
> Recently, in my research, I came across some information
> that casts a new light (to me, at least -- the information is not new)
> on at least some of the archaic specimens. While the exterior
> appearance to an archaic skull may resemble a large-brained H erectus in
> some ways, or a Neanderthal without the protruding face in others, the
> most telling difference is in an area that is not so obvious: the
> basicranial area. Reconstructions of the vocal tract done by Philip
> Lieberman (see his book, _On the Origins of Language_, 1975 -- a little
> old, but still one of the best resources on the subject) indicate that
> some archaic specimens had vocal tracts that were essentially modern in
> appearance, in sharp contrast to the vocal tracts of H.e. and
> Neanderthal. This characteristic is highly significant, since it is
> most likely an indicator of the beginnings of true, full-blown language
> in the genus. When looked at from that perspective, these specimens are
> entirely deserving of their H.s. categorization. IMHO.
> Regards,
> Michael McBroom
> CSUF Linguistics

Lieberman's work was seriously undermined by an article by Hayden (I
think - anyway it was in AJPA in January 1994) who said that Lieberman's
reconstruction of the neanderthal pharynx was all wrong. Lieberman had
shown the pharynx down in the chest, an impossible position, and
concluded that the neanderthals couldn't possibly have a modern pharynx.
But he did this calculation with the neanderthal skull in the wrong
plane, and Hayden (I think) showed that if you put the skull in the
normal in vivo position a modern-type pharynx could easily have been
accomodated in the neanderthal throat.
On the other hand,claims that the Kebara hyoid, a neanderthal one which
looks modern, proves neanderthals could talk are equally unfounded. It's
true, but pigs also have hyoids identical to those of modern humans, and
anyway, you can't deduce much about soft tissues from something like a
All these arguments are here because someone in this thread suggested
that the possession of language was a "H. sapiens" gift, and that was why
neanderthals and erecti were different from "archaic Hom sap". This is by
no means an accepted idea; many people consider neanderthals part of the
"sapiens" group and no-one knows whether they could talk or not; people
like Dunbar and Duchin have argued that H. erectus should have been able
to talk, and others have suggested that fully modern, Upper Palaeolithic
hom sap shows no irrefutable evidence of language.
For my two penn'orth, if neanderthals couldn't talk what on earth were
they using that enormous brain for?