The Atapuerca Hyoids

Greg Laden has a write up of the 1.1-1.2 MYA find at Atapuerca. I mentioned this story last year and the find has finally been published. I will have more to say about this in a later post (there are several other papers out that relate – I also plan on writing about the Homo floresiensis paper and the Orrorin tugenensis paper as well). In the meantime a second paper relating to Atapuerca came out in January. The paper compare two hyoids found at Sima de los Huesos to Kebara 2 and SDR-034 (found at El Sidron) – both Neanderthal hyoids – and DIK-1-1 as well as some modern human and ape hyoids. The two Sima de los Huesos hyoids were found in 1994 and 1997 and date to about 530 ka. Metric analysis indicates that they share a number of traits in common with Neanderthals and modern Homo sapiens, although there is some variability in all three, and all three samples can be clearly distinguished from the australopithicine and ape hyoids. Although, given how young the Dikaka specimen was, I have to wonder if including it in the analysis was very informative. The most interesting aspect of the paper was was the discussion of hyoids in relation to changes in the bony labyrinth of the inner ear (which was short but interesting). Given the importance of the hyoid in speech one would expect to see changes in the organ responsible for perceiving language and the authors state:

However, the presence in the SH fossils of a modern-human-like hyoid shows that some of the skeletal characteristics implicated in speech production in modern humans are very ancient features of the genus Homo. At the same time, the skeletal characteristics of the outer and middle ear associated with modern human auditory capacities and speech perception are also present in the SH hominins…

Martinez, L., Arsuaga, J.J., Quam, R., Carretero, J.M., Gracia, A., Rodriguez, L. (2008). Human hyoid bones from the middle Pleistocene site of the Sima de los Huesos (Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain). Journal of Human Evolution, 54(1), 118-124. DOI: doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2007.07.006

4 Responses

  1. Reality check: I had to google “hyoid” to understand wtf you were on about. (-;

  2. Obviously you don’t watch CSI or Forensic Files……:)

  3. Hmmmm. . . if the Atapuerca hyoids were more or less like “modern” and Neandertal hyoids(and there is a lot of variation in “modern” hyoids), then that should pretty much put to rest the idea that Neandertals had trouble talking or had some sort of language. . . .Just my 2 cents, of course.
    Anne G

  4. Anne. You may be interested in my 2 cents worth here:
    Only the very beginning is relevant in this context though. From the present article it seems possible speech originally developed in Europe or Asia and spread through the human species and then into Africa. I’ve noticed no-one considers where the ancestors of mtEve and Y-chromosome Adam might have come from. There’s no need at all to assume they’d evolved from some Homo erectus group who’d never left Africa.

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