Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Posts Tagged ‘human lineage

Could Neanderthals Speak?

with 9 comments

I had an interesting debate the other day. Could Neanderthals speak? For the longest time the answer was “No!” However, this was more based on prejudice than anything else. IE when Neanderthals were first discovered it was more or less assumed they were a brutish forebear to humans. The quintessential ape-man as it were, basically because the were discovered and described in the early/mid nineteenth century at a time when it was assumed that humans were the apex of creation and nothing else approached us. And the view that Neanderthals couldn’t speak was reinforced by lack of any evidence that they even had the physical capability of speech.

In recent decades however the debate has been re-opened. For one thing an intact Neanderthal hyoid bone was found. This is a bone in the larynx, and it was essentially identical to a human’s, indicating they could make a wide range of sounds. Another recent discovery was of their ear bones, again, it indicated they could discern a wide range of sounds, substantially different than a chimpanzee for example. And it was pointed out that the nerve channel that led to their tongue was similar in size to a human’s, indicating they had the ability to shape a variety of sounds with their tongue. Lastly it was discovered that they had a gene called FOXP2, in humans this gene appears to be essential for speech. This of course doesn’t prove Neanderthals had complex language, but it certainly shows there is no reason they couldn’t, they had the physical capability to make and hear the sounds required for a complex language.

Other arguments for Neanderthal language are their tool use and lifestyles. Especially their hunting, Neanderthals were definitely apex predators, bringing down very large game in group hunts. Though recently it has been discovered they often did have veges with their meat. It has been argued that the complexity of some of their tool-making  tasks, let alone hunting large dangerous animals, would have require complex language. Still, prides of lions and other carnivores bring down large game in group hunts without language, so it’s certainly not definitive. Other arguments include recently discovered cave paintings by Neanderthals, and what has been interpreted as a flute made by Neanderthals. The flute (pictured above) may have just been a  gnawed bone though.

There are still strong arguments against the Neanderthals having complex language. For one thing they were around for several hundred thousand years but made almost no technological progress during that time. Unlike Cro-Magnons, who lived in groups of 30 or more, Neanderthals lived in small and apparently isolated bands of about ten people. There is no evidence that Neanderthals engage in anything resembling trade or other long distance commerce, which humans were fully engaged in starting at least 150,000 years ago. Only a very small number of tools found at Neanderthal sites originated other than locally, and even those few were never from more than 100km (60 miles) away. It’s been argued that these were “gifts” by adolescents trying to ingratiate themselves into a new group, there had to have been some interbreeding between groups. Nonetheless Neanderthal’s apparently primitive, isolated, and non-evolving culture does argue that Neanderthals didn’t have complex language.

The jury is still out on the issue. Basically the debate is about whether Neanderthals were another species, or another race. They did have larger brains than us, though they were structured somewhat differently. It’s been argued that compared to humans, Neanderthals were extremely neophobic, dogmatic and xenophobic. Afraid of anything new, afraid of strangers, and stuck in their ways. Yes, Neanderthals were the Archie Bunkers of prehistory.

So myself, I prefer to think they had language. If nothing else, imagine the sit-com one could base on it, a band of surly cavemen sitting around suspicious of everything:  “If it was good enough for your great great great great great grandfather, it’s good enough for you son!” or “No you can’t date that Cro-Magnon boy, those people have no respect for tradition!”

Feel free to add your own. Have a great weekend everyone.

(The above image is from Wikipedia, so I’m assuming it’s OK to use non-commercially. And yes, there is a middle ground between complex language and no language, but I can only cover so much in 800 words or so.)

Written by unitedcats

September 21, 2012 at 7:46 am

Through Thick and Thin

with 7 comments

Another week gone, Armageddon another week closer. Or the fall election, whichever comes first. Considering how ugly the election campaign is getting, maybe Armageddon sooner would be a relief. I’ll attack the increasingly ugly GOP War on Women next week, it’s really out of the closet at this point. They, or at least some they, now want to punish women who have sex out of marriage. It’s gotten that blatant in some states. Sigh.

And in another depressing observation I couldn’t help but notice that news coverage of the Afghanistan massacre and the bus accident in Switzerland differed. In both cases children died horribly, but the bus crash victims got vastly more sympathetic coverage with endless coverage of the grief stricken families. The coverage of the Afghan massacre was far less sympathetic, and the grieving survivors were only mentioned in passing. Granted, the two events are different, and maybe there was some confirmation bias on my part, but I’m still pretty sure the difference was real. I’ll leave it to the gentle reader to come to whatever conclusion they want.

Speaking of gentle readers, one of them has apparently concluded that whales should be the next topic, inspired by my last post. I don’t see what, if anything, the post had to do with whales. I’m guessing it was some sort of robocomment by the Japanese whaling industry, though to what end I’m not sure. The only reason I didn’t just delete it is because it was so incongruous I figured readers might find it entertaining. I might even respond to it, since some of the logic was execrable.

Speaking of whales, in science news scientists (who else?) have determined why giant squids have giant eyes. (And it’s not just becasue they are giant squid.) Giant squids have eyes that are vastly disproportional to their size, some of the largest eyes in the animal kingdom in fact. A study showed that the only thing such huge eyes would be good for in the ocean depths would be spotting very large moving objects. And what hunts and eats giant squid in the ocean depths? Very large whales. With their huge eyes squids can spot them coming over 100 metres away even in the pitch darkness of the ocean depths (they can see the faint bioluminescence of tiny marine organisms disturbed by the whale’s passing.) The also explains why the extinct mosasaur also sported unusually large eyes, to avoid the larger fiercer pliosaur.

I other exciting science news another new species of human may have been found, called Red Deer Man for now. This is in addition to Denosovian man, discovered just a few years back from DNA analysis of a single finger bone. Granted it’s not yet a slam dunk that Red Deer Man is a separate human species, since the DNA has yet to be analyzed. Still, pretty exciting, the human lineage gets richer and more complicated every day. All false trails seeded by Satan though, as any non-thinking person knows, humans were created, as is, in the image of God.

Moving right along, in the bad news department, a new study shows that Jupiter doesn’t protect Earth from wayward comets. Granted most people probably didn’t know that Jupiter protected Earth from comets, but that’s what a 1994 study concluded. For those who did though, the relief was short lived, now it turns out that Jupiter sightly increases our risk of impacts. It could be worse though, the study showed that if Jupiter was 1/5th of its current size, it would wildly increase the number of comets that hit Earth. That sounds counter-intuitive, but scientific results are often counter-intuitive. Read about the study here to get all the juicy details.

So comet and asteroid impact has to be added to this summer’s looming perils. Maybe one will hit Iran or Israel and forestall the war between them, one apocalypse cancels out another! Is there a Conservation of Apocalypses law? Have a great weekend everyone!

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. Image credit: Frank Glaw. It came from this National Geographic site. It’s a juvenile Brookesia micra, one of four new species of chameleon just discovered on Madagascar. The average adult is just over an inch long, so they are among the smallest known reptiles. It was just a cute picture, no other reason than that for posting it. To find even smaller reptiles, scientists are building the MRC (Miniature Reptile Collider) in Switzerland.  At a cost of $27 billion, it will come on line in 2016.)

Written by unitedcats

March 16, 2012 at 9:02 am