Ladies and Gentlemen, Neanderthals may not have been the hunched cavemen we thought they were.
The reconstruction of a 60,000-year-old rib cage has offered scientists new details about Neanderthals: they stood straighter than modern, humans, could walk longer and had stronger lungs thanks to a different respiratory mechanism.
The first 3D virtual reconstruction of the rib cage of the most complete Neandertal skeleton available, Kebara 2, has revealed a respiratory mechanics different from that of Homo Sapiens, among other things.
Scientists have revealed that the primitive hominid had a better posture than modern humans – as well as stronger lungs.
This new study, led by the researcher Ikerbasque at the University of the Basque Country (UPV / EHU), Asier Gómez-Olivencia, and the researcher at the Ono Academic College in Tel Aviv, Ella Been, supports the theory that the lung capacity of Neanderthals larger and their spine more stable.
But most importantly, scientists found a different respiratory mechanism.
The analysis of Kebara 2 reveals that the lower ribs are oriented more horizontally, which leads researchers to assume that their breathing was more dependent on the diaphragm compared to the case of ‘Homo sapiens’, where both the diaphragm and the thoracic box intervene.
To create this virtual model, the researchers relied on both direct observations of the Kebara 2 skeleton, currently held at Tel Aviv University, as well as on scanners (computerized axial tomography) of the vertebrae, ribs and pelvic bones.
Once all the anatomical elements were gathered, the virtual reconstruction was done by means of a 3D software specifically designed for this purpose.
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.
Anthropologist Dr. Markus Bastir, of the National Museum of Natural History, Madrid, said: “The differences between a Neanderthal and modern human thorax are striking.”
Lead author Dr. Asier Gomez-Olivencia, a paleontologist the University of the Basque Country, Bilbao, explained:
“The Neanderthal spine is located more inside the thorax, which provides more stability. Also, the thorax is wider in its lower part.”
Neanderthals had a larger diaphragm and therefore much stronger lung capacity.
“The wide lower thorax of Neanderthals and the horizontal orientation of the ribs suggest they relied more on their diaphragm for breathing. Modern humans, on the other hand, rely both on the diaphragm and on the expansion of the rib cage for breathing,” explained Senior author Dr. Ella Been, of Ono Academic College, Israel.