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Neanderthals were upright individuals, skeleton proves
JAY GORY, MANAGING EDITOR, science
The popular image of a Neanderthal is that of a hunched ape-like creature with its knuckles scraping through the dirt. New research, however, reveals they stood more upright than modern humans. The first scientific comparison between current day homospaiens and neanderthals shows mankind’s ancient cousin had a straighter spine and stronger longs. Based on the most complete skeleton unearthed to date, it conjures a radically different image to the stooped and barrel chested character of myth. The new research also adds to growing evidence the mysterious species was far more sophisticated than previously assumed and may finally reveal why it died off. Unlike humans, the ribs connected to the spine in an inward direction - forcing the chest out. This made them tilt slightly backwards, with little of the forward curvature of the lower or 'lumbar' vertebral column that is unique to humans. Anthropologist Dr Markus Bastir, of the National Museum of Natural History, Madrid, said: "The differences between a Neanderthal and modern human thorax are striking." The thorax includes the rib cage and upper spine which forms a cavity to house the heart and lungs. Lead author Dr Asier Gomez-Olivencia, a palaeontologist the University of the Basque Country, Bilbao, said: "The Neanderthal spine is located more inside the thorax, which provides more stability. Also, the thorax is wider in its lower part." This shape of the rib cage suggests a larger diaphragm and therefore greater lung capacity. The 'Kebara 2' skeleton, as it was found in in Northern Israel's Carmel mountain range Credit: Madrid Scientific Film/SWNS.COM Senior author Dr Ella Been, of Ono Academic College, Israel, said: "The wide lower thorax of Neanderthals and the horizontal orientation of the ribs suggest they relied more on their diaphragm for breathing. "Modern humans, on the other hand, rely both on the diaphragm and on the expansion of the rib cage for breathing. "Here we see how new technologies in the study of fossil remains is providing new information to understand extinct species." Using CT scans of fossils from the 60,000 year old male Neanderthal dubbed Kebara 2, the international team were able to create the 3D model of his chest. The international team say it redraws the 'hunched, brutish and ape-like caveman' as a straighter backed version of the modern human with more powerful lungs. Their findings published in Nature Communications shed fresh light on how the ancient human moved and breathed. Lead author Dr Asier Gomez-Olivencia, a palaeontologist the University of the Basque Country, Bilbao, said: "The shape of the thorax is key to understanding how Neanderthals moved in their environment because it informs us about their breathing and balance. "The Neanderthal spine is located more inside the thorax, which provides more stability. Also, the thorax is wider in its lower part." The reconstruction of our 'primitive' cousin's ribcage shows it had a straighter spine and stronger lungs Credit: A. Gómez-Olivencia et. al/SWNS This shape of the rib cage suggests a larger diaphragm and thus, greater lung capacity. This would have had a direct impact on their ability to survive on limited resources in the harsh environments they occupied, explained corresponding author Professor Patricia Kramer. "Neanderthals are closely related to us with complex cultural adaptations much like those of modern humans, but their physical form is different from us in important ways. "Understanding their adaptations allows us to understand our own evolutionary path better," said prof Kramer, an anthropologist at the University of Washington. The young adult, also known as 'Moshe', was found in Kebara Cave in Northern Israel's Carmel mountain range in 1983. Just the skull is missing. Debate has lingered over the structure of the thorax, the capacity of the lungs and what conditions Neanderthals could adapt to since their existence was discovered almost 200 years ago. read more
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