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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1999 Feb 16;96(4):1805-9.

Neandertal nasal structures and upper respiratory tract "specialization".

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  • 1Department of Anthropology, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA.


Schwartz and Tattersall [Schwartz, J. H. & Tattersall, I. (1996) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 93, 10852-10854] have argued for a previously unrecognized suite of autapomorphies in the internal nasal region of Neandertals that make them unique, not only among hominids, but possibly among all other terrestrial mammals. These purported autapomorphies include (i) the development of an internal nasal margin bearing a well developed and vertically oriented medial projection; (ii) a pronounced medial swelling of the lateral nasal wall into the posterior nasal cavity; and (iii) the lack of an ossified roof over the lacrimal groove. In addition, Laitman et al. [Laitman, J. T., Reidenberg, J. S., Marquez, S. & Gannon, P. J. (1996) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 93, 10543-10545] pointed to these features as evidence for upper respiratory tract specializations among the Neandertals, indicating potential differences in behavior compared with modern humans. Critically reviewing the anatomical basis for Schwartz and Tattersall's contentions reveals several serious problems with their analysis, including (i) reliance on specimens with damaged, incomplete, or, in some cases, entirely absent relevant anatomy; (ii) failure to consider primary vs. secondary spatial consequences in nasal trait conceptualization; and (iii) failure to consider actual ranges of variation in these traits in both fossil and recent humans. Accordingly, the unique phylogenetic and adaptive "specializations" attributed to Neandertal internal nasal structures are unwarranted.

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