NEANDERTHALS with “hunched backs” are a myth – as new research confirms that our ancestral cousins had backs “as flat as modern humans”.
Experts study ancient Neanderthal bones and reconstructed their posture to reveal that they weren’t stooped at all.
Getty – Contributor An early illustration of the ‘Man of Chapelle-aux-Saints’ Neanderthal, showing him with a hunched back
Scientists have been divided for decades about exactly how Neanderthals would’ve looked and moved – and one of the details causing confusion was their posture.
But a team of scientists from Switzerland and Austria say they’ve solved the conundrum once for all – by examining the La Chapelle-aux-Saints skeleton.
The Neanderthal skeleton – dubbed the Old Man of La Chapelle – was found in a French cave in 1908, and is responsible for early depictions of Neanderthals.
“The original reconstruction of the ‘Old Man of La Chapelle’ by scientist Pierre Marcellin Boule led to the reason why popular culture stereotyped Neanderthals as dim-witted brutes for so many years,” the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History explains.
Martin Haeusler The La Chapelle-aux-Saints spine, which has been superimposed on a full-body radiograph of a modern human
Getty – Contributor Scientists now believe that Neanderthals stood with a straight posture
“In 1911, Boule reconstructed this skeleton with a severely curved spine indicative of a stooped, slouching stance with bent knees, forward flexed hips, and the head jutted forward.
“He thought the low vaulted cranium and the large brow ridge, somewhat reminiscent of that seen in large apes such as gorillas, indicated a generally primitive early human and a lack of intelligence.”
That suggested posture was a big mistake, say scientists who published a study on the skeleton in the PNAS journal.
The University of Zurich’s Martin Haeusler said: “Although the early postural reconstructions of the Neanderthals as incompletely erect were rejected half a century ago, recent studies of Neanderthal vertebral remains have inferred a hypolordotic, flat lower back and spinal imbalance for them, including the La Chapelle-aux-Saints 1 skeleton.
“These studies form part of a persistent trend to view the Neanderthals as less ‘human’ than ourselves, despite growing evidence for little if any differences in basic functional anatomy and behavioural capabilities.
“Our findings challenge the view of generally small spinal curvatures in Neanderthals,” adding that the skeleton would’ve “provided them with a fully upright (and human) axial posture”.
The spine was discovered in a cave in France
To make their discovery, Haeusler’s team examined the angle of the pelvis in relation to the spine, and the articulations of the vertebrae.
They also accounted for the likely osteoarthritis and age-related “degenerations” of the Neanderthal, to make sure they were getting an accurate picture of what his posture would’ve been like.
When the effects of disease were removed, Haeusler found that the Neanderthal’s spinal curvature was within the range of normal modern human posture.
The discovery strikes down the longstanding myth that Neanderthals were hunched over – making them seem less human.
A timeline of life on EarthThe history of the planet in years…
4.6billion years ago – the origin of Earth
3.8billion years ago – first life appears on Earth
2.1billion years ago – lifeforms made up of multiple cells evolve
1.5billion years ago – eukaryotes, which are cells that contain a nucleus inside of their membranes, emerge
550million years ago – first arthropods evolve
530million years ago – first fish appear
470million years ago – first land plants appear
380million years ago – forests emerge on Earth
370million years ago – first amphibians emerge from the water onto land
320million years ago – earliest reptiles evolve
230million years ago – dinosaurs evolve
200million years ago – mammals appear
150million years ago – earliest birds evolve
130million years ago – first flowering plants
100million years ago – earliest bees
55million years ago – hares and rabbits appear
30million years ago – first cats evolve
20million years ago – great apes evolve
7million years ago –first human ancestors appear
2million years ago – Homo erectus appears
300,000 years ago – Homo sapiens evolves
50,000 years ago – Eurasia and Oceania colonised
40,000 years ago – Neandethal extinction
Erik Trinkaus The original La Chapelle-aux-Saints skull, which was found in a French cave just over 100 years ago
“Fully upright and balanced posture is one of the hallmarks of humanity, and it has long been seen as present among all members of the genus Homo,” Haeusler wrote.
“However, recent considerations of Neanderthal vertebrae have concluded that these late archaic humans, who were both behaviourally and phylogenetically close to ourselves, lacked fully developed spinal curvatures and must therefore have had precarious postures.
“Reassessment and virtual reconstruction of the La Chapelle-aux-Saints 1 Neanderthal skeletal remains provides direct anatomical evidence that he, and by extension other Neanderthals, possessed the usual human lower back and neck curvature (lordosis).
“It is therefore time to move beyond making Neanderthals less human and focus on the subtle shift sin Late Pleistocene human biology and behaviour.
He added: “After more than a century of alternative views, it should be apparent that there is nothing in Neanderthal pelvic or vertebral morphology that rejects their possession of spinal curvatures well within the ranges of variation of healthy recent humans.”
Alamy Neanderthals were much more similar to humans than we’ve been led to believe
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This isn’t the first Neanderthal myth to be shattered. Last year it emerged that their brains were just as big as those belonging to early humans.
And researchers recently discovered that some Neanderthals were wiped out in part because they couldn’t stop romping with their sisters.
And a 50,000-year-old “teen” Neanderthal was recently found buried alongside his mum and “sub-species” dad – revealing the extent of human-ape breeding.
Which period of history would you most like to go back and visit? Let us know in the comments!
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