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PLoS One. 2013 Dec 18;8(12):e82261. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0082261. eCollection 2013.

Micro-biomechanics of the Kebara 2 hyoid and its implications for speech in Neanderthals.

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University Museum - State University "G. d'Annunzio", Piazza Trento e Trieste 1, Chieti, Italy.
Computational Biomechanics Research Group, Zoology, School of Environmental and Rural Sciences, University of New England, New South Wales, Australia.
Multidisciplinary Laboratory, The "Abdus Salam" International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Strada Costiera 11, Trieste, Italy ; Centre for Archaeological Science, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia.
Elettra-Sincrotrone Trieste, Area Science Park, Basovizza, Trieste, Italy.
Division of Anatomy, University of Toronto, Department of Surgery, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Computational Biomechanics Research Group, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Kensington, New South Wales, Australia.


The description of a Neanderthal hyoid from Kebara Cave (Israel) in 1989 fuelled scientific debate on the evolution of speech and complex language. Gross anatomy of the Kebara 2 hyoid differs little from that of modern humans. However, whether Homo neanderthalensis could use speech or complex language remains controversial. Similarity in overall shape does not necessarily demonstrate that the Kebara 2 hyoid was used in the same way as that of Homo sapiens. The mechanical performance of whole bones is partly controlled by internal trabecular geometries, regulated by bone-remodelling in response to the forces applied. Here we show that the Neanderthal and modern human hyoids also present very similar internal architectures and micro-biomechanical behaviours. Our study incorporates detailed analysis of histology, meticulous reconstruction of musculature, and computational biomechanical analysis with models incorporating internal micro-geometry. Because internal architecture reflects the loadings to which a bone is routinely subjected, our findings are consistent with a capacity for speech in the Neanderthals.

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