"NEANDERTHALS have been misunderstood. The early humanoids traditionally characterised as ape-like brutes were deeply emotional beings with high-pitched voices. They may even have sung to each other, writes Jonathan Leake.
The new image has emerged from two studies of the vocal apparatus and anatomy of the creatures that occupied Europe between 200,000 and 35,000 years ago.
Neanderthal voices were loud, womanly and probably highly melodic — not the roars and grunts previously assumed by most researchers. Stephen Mithen, professor of archeology at Reading University and author of one of the studies, said: “What is emerging is a picture of an intelligent and emotionally complex creature whose most likely form of communication would have been part language and part song.”
Mithen is giving a seminar on his findings at University College London next week and will publish a book, The Singing Neanderthal: The Origin of Language, Music, Body and Mind, in June.
He studied the Neanderthal voice box and compared it with those of modern humans, monkeys and apes to work out what noises they might have made. “They must have been able to communicate complex ideas and even spirituality. Their anatomy suggests that pitch and melody would have played a key role,” he said.
Mithen’s work coincides with the first detailed study of a reconstructed Neanderthal skeleton. Anthropologists at the American Museum of Natural History in New York brought together bones and casts from several sites to re-create the creature.
Gary Sawyer, the researcher who oversaw the project, will describe the results in Horizon on BBC2 on February 10. The creature that emerges bears marked differences to humans. Neanderthals seem to have had an extremely powerful build and no discernible waist.
Professor Trenton Holliday of Tulane University in New Orleans believes they evolved their stocky body shapes to conserve heat when ice covered the world.
“A short compact body with a voluminous chest would retain heat better in a cold environment,” he said."