Re: Neanderthals' Noses Blow Scientists Away

Ralph L Holloway (
Thu, 3 Oct 1996 10:21:20 -0400

On Wed, 2 Oct 1996, Stephen Barnard wrote:

> I'll quote the article in detail:
> "[The bumps] are oblong, vertical swellings in the bone along the sides
> of the roughly triangular nasal hole of the skull. By contrast, modern
> humans and all primates have smaller bumps that run at right angles to
> the ones reported by Schwartz and Tattersall."
> "'It is amazing that nobody noticed this before,' Tattersall said. He
> and Schwartz found them while studying Neanderthal skulls that have
> been in varous museum collections for years, some for more than a
> century."
> "Small as they may appear to the uninitiated, the bumps would force a
> reorganization of Neanderthal sinuses and the delicate membranelike
> bones called turbinates within the nose itself, Tattersall said. These
> distinct differences, coupled with the heavy musculature, the protruding
> face, and low, long skull 'really show this was a different species.'
> Accordingly, in the paper they refer to it as Homo Neanderthalensis."
> Steve Barnard

Many thanks for the full post with the descriptions. My apologies for the
irreverant response. I am not a turbinate specialist. The turbinates are
basically composed of the inferior conchae, separate bones, paired ' one
on either side, fairly low in the nasal cavity, and the medial and
inferior conchae, also paired left and right, which are an integral part
of that box-like bone, the ethmoid. These bones are extremely thin and
delicate. They have numerous folds, which gives a clue to their function:
they provide a lot of surface area for epithelial tissues which cover
them, and which have important roles in filtering out particles of dust,
and producing phlegm (mucous, snot, whatever) which is then usually
expectorated in some fashion.
How these were attached in the nasal cavity of Neandertals, I do not
know. I have never seen any Neandertal turbinate bones, and I suspect that
the "bumps" left by their previous attachment might suggest either a
different placement in Neandertals or a more robust morphology. I know of
no good modern study on modern human nasal conchae variation, and I
sincerely doubt that there are many Neandertal crania in which that region
can be reliably interpreted.
All iof that aside, I am grateful that you posted this information
and I will certainly be interested in seeing more on this aspect of
Neandertal and modern human morphology. I still would have substantaila
reservations that these turbinates would prove useful as species-specific
attributes of Neandertal morphology, or that they signify speciation from
eaither earlier Homo sapiens, or modern Homo.
Ralph Holloway