The Neanderthals are often portrayed as hunched over creatures that resembled apes more than humans. A new study, however, challenges the idea that these ancient hominins had poor posture.
The first reconstruction of Neanderthals made in the early 20th century depicted them as walking partially upright. The reconstructions were based on a well-preserved Neanderthal skeleton found in La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France in 1911.
A new virtual reconstruction of the pelvis and spine of the skeleton, however, revealed the Neanderthals were not hunched at all. They once walked fully upright with a posture similar to modern humans.
By creating computer-generated anatomical models of the skeleton, Martin Haeusler, from the University of Zurich, and colleagues showed that the elderly male Neanderthal found in La Chapelle-aux-Saints and the Neanderthals, in general, had a curved lumbar region and neck, similar to those of humans today.
The extinct species needed to have a double S-shaped spine like modern humans if they had a posture similar to humans. These curves serve to take on the majority of weight and shock conferred when walking.
The reconstruction of the pelvis revealed the sacrum was position in the same way as in modern humans, suggesting the Neanderthals had a well-developed curve in their lower back.
When the researchers looked at the vertebrae in the neck, they also found the Neanderthals had a double S-shaped curve similar to ours, with one curve in the neck and the other in the lower back. Tear marks in the hip joint of the skeleton also provided evidence Neanderthals had an upright posture.
“Reassessment and virtual reconstruction of the La Chapelle-aux-Saints 1 Neandertal skeletal remains provides direct anatomical evidence that he, and by extension other Neanderthals, possessed the usual human lower back and neck curvature (lordosis),” the researchers wrote in their study, which was published in PNAS.
The researchers said it is high time to move from depicting Neanderthals as less human.
“Now is the time to recognize the basic similarities between Neanderthals and modern humans and to switch the focus to the subtle biological and behavioral changes that occurred in humans in the late Pleistocene,” Haeusler said.
It is, therefore, time to move beyond making Neanderthals less human and focus on the subtle shifts in Late Pleistocene human biology and behavior.
It is, therefore, time to move beyond making Neanderthals less human and focus on the subtle shifts in Late Pleistocene human biology and behavior. making Neanderthals less human and focus on the subtle shifts in Late Pleistocene human biology and behavior.