Stories tagged frightening

Apr
19
2008

Neanderthal skulls: They're speaking to each other, but we can't understand. Or we don't want to.
Neanderthal skulls: They're speaking to each other, but we can't understand. Or we don't want to.Courtesy leted
Imagine how a Neanderthal would have sounded. Do it.

Maybe something along the lines of Darth Gorilla? That was my thought. Anyway, hold that sound in your head… and forget it. Here, for the first time in 30,000 years, you can hear a single syllable of Neanderthal speech. Click here, and listen to a voice from the depths of time…

Um, what? Let’s try that again. The ghosts of the distant past whisper their secrets to us

I see… Well that was a little… underwhelming. Underwhelming and vaguely familiar… What could it possibly be that I’m thinking of? What could I have heard in my short life that might sound anything like a might Neanderthal? What indeed?

Well, like it or not, that mind-blowing audio simulation is the product of a recent study by an anthropologist at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Based on skeletal remains, Dr. Robert McCarthy has reconstructed Neanderthal vocal tracts to simulate what their voices might have sounded like.

While it’s likely that Neanderthals could speak (there’s some evidence that they used pigments to decorate themselves, which suggests at least basic communication), McCarthy says they would have sounded a “bit different,” and would have been unable to produce “quantal vowels.”

Quantal vowels are the basis for much of human speech, and allow, for example, us to distinguish a word like “beat” from a similar word, like “bit.” So here’s the same type of simulation with a human voice producing an “E” sound.

And, once again, here’s the stentorian bellow of the Neanderthal, attempting to produce the same sound. The Neanderthals must have lived in a confusing world, with fate being put in their shoes, and sandwiches full of mate.

Even though people would probably have a difficult time understanding each other without the use of quantal vowels, many anthropologists believe that the anatomy of the throat and mouth is less important for language than the “neuronal control over it.” Even if Neanderthals were physically unable to speak quite like modern humans, that doesn’t necessarily imply that they were less effective communicators. In fact, Neanderthals have been shown to share the gene “FOXP2” with humans—something other primates don’t possess. When a person is missing a copy of FOXP2, they suffer from language and speech disorders, leading some to believe that its presence in Neanderthals is an indicator of the capacity for speech.

Clearly.