Origin of language has long been questioned by not only scientists, but at some point it sure has aroused curiosity in our minds, too. It has been one of the most controversial topic in scientific community but not anymore as Prof. Stephen Wroe of the University of New England with a team of international researchers have shown that Neanderthals, our closest relatives, were able to speak in languages not dissimilar to ours.
Many scientists have always thought that ability to use language was unique to humans and Neanderthals simply lacked the necessary cognitive capacity and vocal hardware for speech.
By using latest 3D x-ray imagining technology, a 60,000 years old Neanderthal hyoid bone was studied. This bone discovered in Israel in 1989 became a new puzzle for scientists as its shape was different than our closest relatives, the chimps and the bonobo, but it could not be distinguished from human hyoid leading some to believe that neanderthals could speak. Others claimed that they could not, but at the time with no technology available to prove either of those claims, the matter remained disputed until now.
What scientists in this study did was that they analyzed the mechanical behavior of Neanderthal hyoid bone with micro x-ray imagining and built models of the detailed internal structure of the bone. It was then compared to the human hyoid models which showed that in terms of mechanical behavior neanderthal and human hyoid was incredibly similar with no differences at all, suggesting that they used this part of vocal tract the same way we do.
Now, this experiment might bring an ending to claims that only human posses linguistic skills. Also, it has proven that the origin of language is far more older than we thought. Further research will prove the exact mechanism by which neanderthal evolved to speak and how did the modern human inherited this ability.
[Image Credit: National Geographic]