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A Middle Palaeolithic human hyoid bone


THE origin of human language, and in particular the question of whether or not Neanderthal man was capable of language/speech, is of major interest to anthropologists but remains an area of great controversy1, 2. Despite palaeoneurological evidence to the contrary3, 4, many researchers hold to the view that Neanderthals were incapable of language/speech, basing their arguments largely on studies of laryngeal/basicranial morphology1, 5, 6. Studies, however, have been hampered by the absence of unambiguous fossil evidence. We now report the discovery of a well-preserved human hyoid bone from Middle Palaeolithic layers of Kebara Cave, Mount Carmel, Israel, dating from about 60,000 years BP. The bone is almost identical in size and shape to the hyoid of present-day populations, suggesting that there has been little or no change in the visceral skeleton (including the hyoid, middle ear ossicles, and inferentially the larynx) during the past 60,000 years of human evolution. We conclude that the morphological basis for human speech capability appears to have been fully developed during the Middle Palaeolithic.

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Arensburg, B., Tillier, A., Vandermeersch, B. et al. A Middle Palaeolithic human hyoid bone. Nature 338, 758–760 (1989).

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