The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)


On the origin of language: the Atapuerca evidence

IGNACIO MARTINEZ1,2, R M. QUAM2,3,4, M ROSA5, P JARABO5, C LORENZO2,6, A BONMATÍ2,7, A GÓMEZ-OLIVENCIA2,8, A GRACIA1,2 and J L. ARSUAGA2,7.

1Departamento de Geología (Área de Paleontología), Universidad de Alcalá, 2Área de Evolución Humana, Centro de Investigación (UCM-ISCIII) sobre la Evolución y Comportamiento Humanos, 3Department of Anthropology, Binghamton University (SUNY), 4Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History, 5Departamento de Teoría de la Señal y Comunicaciones, Universidad de Alcalá, 6Institut de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social, Universitat Rovira i Virgili, 7Departamento de Paleontología, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 8Leverhulme Center for Human Evolutionary Studies, Department of Biological Anthropology, University of Cambridge

Thursday 3:15-3:30, Grand Ballroom II Add to calendar

Abstract:

The Sima de los Huesos (Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain) has yielded a large collection of Middle Pleistocene human fossils that represent the ancestors of the Neandertals. Among the fossils recovered from the site are a very complete cranium (Cranium 5) and its associated cervical segment of the spinal column, two hyoid bones and nearly 30 middle ear ossicles. The preservation of these skeletal elements makes it possible to reliably reconstruct the basic aspects of the anatomical regions that are responsible for the production and perception of the sounds that comprise human speech. The proportion between the horizontal and vertical segments of the supralaryngeal vocal tract and the human-like anatomy of the hyoid bones demonstrate that the skeletal characteristics implicated in speech production in modern humans are ancient features of the genus Homo. At the same time, the skeletal characteristics of the outer and middle ear associated with modern human auditory capacities and speech perception are also present in the SH hominins. In order to quantify the link between sound perception and communication, we have analyzed the capacity of the outer and middle ears as a communication channel. The presence of a widened bandwidth of hearing in the SH hominins suggests the ability to transmit and receive a large amount of information compared to chimpanzees. In sum, the SH hominins, and by extension their Neandertal descendants, already possessed all the anatomical characteristics that facilitate efficient production and perception of the sounds on which the human vocal communication system is based.

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