Neanderthals had a spoken language?

Stephen Palmer

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There is much debate also on the Neanderthals' hyoid bone. Myself, I think homo sapiens and homo neanderthalensis are so similar it's just daft to think the latter might not have had speech. Even if it was 'simple speech' that's still a gigantic raise above animal sounds. They had the brains, too...
 

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There is much debate also on the Neanderthals' hyoid bone. Myself, I think homo sapiens and homo neanderthalensis are so similar it's just daft to think the latter might not have had speech. Even if it was 'simple speech' that's still a gigantic raise above animal sounds. They had the brains, too...
I agree completely. I simply cannot believe they wouldn't have had language. Besides do we actually know when humans first acquired language? I suspect not! :)
 

Ursa major

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It's been said that cats -- not the world's most intelligent animals -- meow to humans but not to each other, i.e. they have adapted their own intra-species communications in order to communicate to another species (us).

Okay, it isn't language, but it's hard to imagine even a Neanderthal who doesn't speak to other Neanderthals encountering members of our species not cottoning on to what was happening and trying (with greater or lesser success) to copy us (in terms of producing speech) and (likely with a great deal more success) grasping** what those "modern" humans were saying.


** - A study reported in the media recently claimed that dogs got confused if the words (presumably a few key words) spoken to them did not match the tone of voice being used (such as, I suppose, praise in an angry voice). Again, dogs are far from being the cleverest animals on the planet.
 

AstroZon

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Big Neanderthal research fan here. Devisovan too. Svante Paabo is my hero.

The study of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA has really shed light on what these archaic hominids were like. Paabo's proven that Neanderthals were quite capable of speech and that they probably had vocabularies of 1000 to 2000 words. Further, Paabo was the person that proved that all non-African humans have 1-2.5% Neanderthal DNA. Some of the traits that were inherited from the Neanderthals are red hair, freckles, elongated skulls, and insulated skin (fat layer just under the skin.)
 

Brian G Turner

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Some of the traits that were inherited from the Neanderthals are red hair, freckles, elongated skulls, and insulated skin (fat layer just under the skin.)

Just to ask, is eye colour one of them? I have it in my mind - I'm not sure from where - that blue eyes were a Neanderthal trait.
 

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Just to ask, is eye colour one of them? I have it in my mind - I'm not sure from where - that blue eyes were a Neanderthal trait.
As far as I have read the answer to that is "it could be." Blue eyes and fair hair (which is really very light red hair) all appeared first in Central Europe and moved North as new land was exposed by retreating ice sheets. This is also where Man was mixing with Neanderthals.

On the original subject, is it possible that "Song" and "Singing" came first before actual "Speech" and "Language?" I have also read that idea somewhere.
 

Stuart Suffel

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Big Neanderthal research fan here. Devisovan too. Svante Paabo is my hero.

The study of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA has really shed light on what these archaic hominids were like. Paabo's proven that Neanderthals were quite capable of speech and that they probably had vocabularies of 1000 to 2000 words. Further, Paabo was the person that proved that all non-African humans have 1-2.5% Neanderthal DNA. Some of the traits that were inherited from the Neanderthals are red hair, freckles, elongated skulls, and insulated skin (fat layer just under the skin.)
OMG. My ex!
 

ErikB

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The study of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA has really shed light on what these archaic hominids were like. Paabo's proven that Neanderthals were quite capable of speech and that they probably had vocabularies of 1000 to 2000 words.

African Grey parrots hold the Guiness Book of records for the largest vocabulary of any talking/mimicking animal besides humans at just a bit over 2,000 words.

I strongly doubt that Neanderthal was incapable of a substantially greater vocabulary than that of a parrot. I would guess that there is a greater complexity to the vocabulary and structure of neanderthal vocal communications.

;) Just my opinion.

Besides, if Geiko commercials have thought me anything they hate being patronized. LOL.

Kidding... ;)
 

AstroZon

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Neanderthals probably could have mastered a language of more than 2000 words, but they likely didn't need more. They tended to live in small groups of 20 - 40, and they didn't interact with other Neanderthal groups more than a few time a year. They spent most of their time hunting and gathering, preparing food, making fur clothing, and making weapons and tools. Basic survival. They didn't even make ornamental goods like necklaces or bracelets until they encountered the first modern humans whereupon they began to immitate them. They also changed their weapon making technology at this time. This proves that they had analytical minds as that they certainly grasped the new technologies.
 

ErikB

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Actually they were doing cave art long before modern humans co mingled with Neanderthal. I'd give them a bit more credit for their own creativity. And it is impossible to know how often groups interacted, traded, or got together for larger hunting opportunities during herd migrations season shifts etc.

They were certainly an amazing people.
 

ErikB

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That's still a contentious issue, and not at all certain.

You are correct that cave art predating the known existence of modern hominids points to dates which could have overlapped Cromagnon with Neanderthal.

However early Neanderthal graves that predate their known interaction with modern hominids contained some samples of tools and artifacts (as well as flowers, food, clothing etc) pointing to a belief in an afterlife of some sort, and showing Neanderthal as having already established skills independent of other influences.

;) Interesting discussion.
 

AnyaKimlin

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Back in the deep and distant past of my life I remember a lecture on Neanderthal language and communication. There was a certain amount of evidence that they had a primitive written language as well.
 

Venusian Broon

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However early Neanderthal graves that predate their known interaction with modern hominids contained some samples of tools and artifacts (as well as flowers, food, clothing etc) pointing to a belief in an afterlife of some sort, and showing Neanderthal as having already established skills independent of other influences.

;) Interesting discussion.

There is also that extremely interesting find in that French cave - was it a ring of stone? That must have been Neanderthal (will look it up when I get back - I'm out and about and on the phone at the mo' !).

There do seem to be big differences between both sub-species, but the evidence does indeed seem to showing a very much more sophisticated Neanderthal.
 

Stephen Palmer

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You are correct that cave art predating the known existence of modern hominids points to dates which could have overlapped Cromagnon with Neanderthal.

However early Neanderthal graves that predate their known interaction with modern hominids contained some samples of tools and artifacts (as well as flowers, food, clothing etc) pointing to a belief in an afterlife of some sort, and showing Neanderthal as having already established skills independent of other influences.

;) Interesting discussion.

Indeed!

The Skhul/Qafzek finds are now highly contentious, and it's generally agreed that flowers/flower pollen indicates nothing significant there. I do think though that there is plenty of evidence for the cognitive abilities of the Neanderthals, which I don't doubt were considerable. An excellent modern overview is Papagianni/Morse The Neanderthals Rediscovered.
 

Stephen Palmer

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There is also that extremely interesting find in that French cave - was it a ring of stone? That must have been Neanderthal (will look it up when I get back - I'm out and about and on the phone at the mo' !).

There do seem to be big differences between both sub-species, but the evidence does indeed seem to showing a very much more sophisticated Neanderthal.

This, I think.
 

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