The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Re-evaluating the functional and adaptive significance of Neandertal nasofacial anatomy


1Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Metropolitan State University of Denver, 2Department of Orthodontics, University of Iowa

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The retention of a wide nose in Neandertals living in glacial time periods deviates from the expected cold-adapted morphological pattern based on recent human populations living in cold-climate conditions. Given this disparity, many scholars have rejected adaptation to cold climate as a major factor in the evolution of Neandertal nasofacial anatomy. Heat and moisture exchange in the nasal passages, however, are facilitated by a large mucosal surface and a narrow channel for respired air. As such, there are multiple morphological solutions for improving air conditioning capacity in cold-climate conditions. If the overall gestalt of Neandertal nasofacial architecture is analyzed in the context of the parameters that govern heat and moisture exchange, it becomes evident that a wide nose does not negate the importance of climate in explaining Neandertal facial evolution. Here we assess nasofacial dimensions of Neandertals and other archaic humans and examine how these dimensions would influence the air conditioning capacity of their noses. Among Middle and Late Pleistocene Homo, there is evidence that nasal morphology varies with climate, albeit within an archaic architectural nasofacial framework. Neandertal internal nasal dimensions are greater in both height and length than archaic humans from sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, while other aspects of the nose are relatively broad, superior internal breadth dimensions in Neandertals are narrowed relative to sub-Saharan archaics. These differences parallel those seen in modern humans, indicating that Neandertals had an increased capacity for nasal heat and moisture exchange over their African counterparts and thus exhibit clear evidence for cold-climate adaptation.

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