Re: "The wisdom of the bones"

J E Hawcroft (
Tue, 10 Sep 1996 15:34:01 +0100

Joao Duarte wrote:
> the Homo Erectus squeleton
> had a very narrow passage for the spinal cord.
> If I understud the author's idea correctly, this implied that H.E.
> didn't have the fine control we have over the muscles in the Thorax
> and abdomen.
> The authors went on to sugest that only anatomicaly modern humans can
> talk.
> However they never mention if Neandertal man had a narrow spinal cord.
> Since there are many squeletons of Neandertal man, this should be easy
> to answer. Did they ?

As far as I know, neanderthal vertebrae are like most of their other
bones in that they are within the range of anatomically modern humans,
albeit at the robust end of the range. I have never seen any reference to
their vertebral arch size or anything to suggest they had a narrower
spinal cord than us. But then, neanderthals are a lot closer to us than
H. erectus is.
Furthermore, there is a huge body of research on the liklihood of
neanderthal speech, but I have never seen any suggestion that nervous
control of the thoracic muscles is an issue. Much work has been done on
the base of the skull and the position of soft tissues which come off the
basicranium (see Lieberman, 1992, for example) although this research has
been refuted (Hayden 1994). The neanderthal hyoid bone from Israel
(Arensburg et al 1992) does not suggest any difference between the
throats of neanderthals and anatomically modern humans. Let's hope they
find a H. erectus hyoid soon. I think this would be a more substantial
indication of speech capabilities than the size of the spinal column.
Motor control of the thorax is indeed necessary for speech but it is also
necessary for breathing, and I think we can assume H. erectus was capable
of that. Personally I don't think H. erectus could talk in the same way
as we do but vertebral arch size is not one of the strongest indications
of this.