Did Neanderthals Speak In Complex Languages?

When you think of Neanderthal talk, it probably mostly sounds like grunts, ughs, and other sounds of exacerbated evolutionary confusion.

But, the BBC reports, we might be underselling our once-relatives.

In 1989, archaeologists turned up a neanderthal hyoid bone — a bone in the neck that, among other things, helps us talk — that resembled a human’s. More recently, computer imaging has shown that the hyoid in question probably did help neanderthals form real speech.

And more recently found fossils suggest complex language might have come into use way, way earlier than we realized. From the BBC:

It was commonly believed that complex language did not evolve until about 100,000 years ago and that modern humans were the only ones capable of complex speech.

But that changed with the discovery of a Neanderthal hyoid bone in 1989. It was found in the Kebara Cave in Israel and is very similar to our own.

Much older hyoid fossils have also recently been discovered, attributed to the human and Neanderthal relative Homo heidelbergensis. They were found in Spain and are over 500,000 years old.

photo credit: Erich Ferdinand, Creative Commons/flickr