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Proc Biol Sci. 2018 Apr 11;285(1876). pii: 20180085. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2018.0085.

Computer simulations show that Neanderthal facial morphology represents adaptation to cold and high energy demands, but not heavy biting.

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Function, Evolution and Anatomy Research Lab, School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England, Armidale, New South Wales 2351, Australia
Surgical and Orthopaedic Research Laboratory (SORL), Level 1, Clinical Sciences Bld, Gate 6, Prince of Wales Clinical School, University of New South Wales (UNSW), Avoca St, Randwick, Sydney, New South Wales 2031, Australia
Function, Evolution and Anatomy Research Lab, School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England, Armidale, New South Wales 2351, Australia.
College of Osteopathic Medicine, New York Institute of Technology, Jonesboro, AR 72401, USA.
School of Engineering, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, New South Wales 2308, Australia.
Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3800, Australia.
Department of Cultural Heritage, University of Bologna, Via degli Ariani 1, Ravenna 48121, Italy.
Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, 04103 Leipzig, Germany.
Department of Earth Sciences, Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, UK.
Senckenberg Forschungsinstitut Frankfurt am Main, Abteilung Paläoanthropologie und Messelforschung, Sektion Tertiäre Säugetiere, Senckenberganlage 25, 60325 Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
Centre for Research in Evolutionary and Environmental Anthropology, University of Roehampton, London, UK.
Metropolitan State University of Denver, PO Box 173362, Campus Box 28, Denver, CO 80217-3362, USA.


Three adaptive hypotheses have been forwarded to explain the distinctive Neanderthal face: (i) an improved ability to accommodate high anterior bite forces, (ii) more effective conditioning of cold and/or dry air and, (iii) adaptation to facilitate greater ventilatory demands. We test these hypotheses using three-dimensional models of Neanderthals, modern humans, and a close outgroup (Homo heidelbergensis), applying finite-element analysis (FEA) and computational fluid dynamics (CFD). This is the most comprehensive application of either approach applied to date and the first to include both. FEA reveals few differences between H. heidelbergensis, modern humans, and Neanderthals in their capacities to sustain high anterior tooth loadings. CFD shows that the nasal cavities of Neanderthals and especially modern humans condition air more efficiently than does that of H. heidelbergensis, suggesting that both evolved to better withstand cold and/or dry climates than less derived Homo We further find that Neanderthals could move considerably more air through the nasal pathway than could H. heidelbergensis or modern humans, consistent with the propositions that, relative to our outgroup Homo, Neanderthal facial morphology evolved to reflect improved capacities to better condition cold, dry air, and, to move greater air volumes in response to higher energetic requirements.


Homo heidelbergensis; Homo neanderthalensis; computational fluid dynamics; finite-element analysis

[Available on 2019-04-11]

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