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A Rebuilt Neanderthal
The New York Times ^ | 12-31-02 | JOHN NOBLE WILFORD

Posted on 12/31/2002 4:38:20 PM PST by Pharmboy

In a laboratory in the upper recesses of the American Museum of Natural History, away from the public galleries, Dr. Ian Tattersall, a tall Homo sapiens, stooped and came face to face with a Neanderthal man, short and robust but bearing a family resemblance — until one looked especially closely.

A paleoanthropologist who has studied and written about Neanderthals, Dr. Tattersall was getting his first look at a virtually complete skeleton from this famously extinct branch of the hominid family. Nothing quite like it has ever been assembled before, the foot bones connected to the ankle bones and everything else up to the cranium.

It is, the museum says, the first composite reconstruction of a full Neanderthal skeleton based on actual fossils.

Dr. Tattersall's initial reaction was visceral, then more analytical. "For the first time, I really feel I have met a Neanderthal," he said. "He was so much like us, but actually quite different."

Examining the upright skeleton, Dr. Tattersall disputed the notion, once current even among some scientists, that Neanderthals may have been so humanlike that if dressed in contemporary clothing, they could have passed unrecognized on the subway. This impression has been characterized in popular cartoon figures of a heavy-browed Neanderthal in a jaunty fedora.

"This definitely is its own species," Dr. Tattersall affirmed, glancing first to the Neanderthal and then to a modern human skeleton next to it. "If people didn't believe that before, by all rights they should now."

Standing 5 feet 4 1/2 inches, thought to be a typical height of a Neanderthal man, the skeleton will be on display at the museum, in New York City, in an exhibit opening on Jan. 11. Showmanship as well as science was behind the skeleton's creation.

These prehistoric people, who lived mostly in Europe and parts of central and southwestern Asia, vanished about 30,000 years ago. Since the first of their fossils were recognized in 1856, Neanderthals have been objects of mystery and endless conjecture. They are, in many respects, the dinosaurs of hominid studies.

Like the fate of the dinosaurs, their extinction has kept scholarly mills grinding out imaginative theories. Similarly, popular culture often treats Neanderthals as the personification of obsolescence. They are the brutes of caveman caricature (sometimes, anachronistically, sharing the turf with hulking dinosaurs).

They have been maligned as an inferior breed not smart enough to survive, even though Neanderthals apparently managed well in challenging climates for more than 200,000 years — longer than the 125,000 to 150,000 years modern Homo sapiens have been around so far.

One reason for the misunderstanding is that not a single remotely complete skeleton of a Neanderthal has turned up. The many artistic recreations, though commonplace and more lifelike than skeletons, invite scientific criticism as being projections of particular interpretations of Neanderthal appearances and behavior. A less subjective study, scientists say, starts with anatomy — with the skeleton.

Dr. Erik Trinkaus, a Neanderthal specialist at Washington University in St. Louis, who was not involved in the project, said the skeleton reconstructions were especially important for computer models of Neanderthal biomechanics, the way they stood, walked and ran.

So technicians at the museum, working with the skill and patience of reconstructive surgeons, assembled a full skeleton from the exact casts of fossil parts from several specimensfound in Europe and the Middle East.

"The whole skeleton is in essence a transplant," said Gary Sawyer, a senior technician in anthropology, who directed the reconstruction.

Mr. Sawyer and other technicians began developing their skills several years ago with the reconstruction of Peking Man, a Homo erectus from China. Their goal is to recreate skeletons of about 20 hominid species.

Last summer, they finished a prototype Neanderthal skeleton and have since added more body parts for the new version. With so much work and thought invested in their creation, they now wish they could give it an appropriate sobriquet. Any suggestions?

Up to 90 percent of the amalgamated skeleton is made from polyurethane replicas based on actual fossils. These are stained a yellowish brown, the color of most excavated fossils. A few parts, particularly cartilage associated with the rib cage, are inferred by context. All such parts are colored gray.

"This was not the easiest thing to do," Mr. Sawyer said. "There were not an awful lot of parts of Neanderthals available to us."

The museum borrowed fossil casts from several institutions. The ribs, spine and some pelvic bones, among other parts, were derived from a 60,000-year-old Neanderthal found at Kebara cave in Israel.

Anatomically modern humans may have seen their first Neanderthals in what is now Israel some 90,000 years ago. They occupied the same region from time to time, and it is tempting to imagine their shock of recognition. Like long-separated cousins, they probably searched each other's faces and physiques for contours of their shared ancestry.

The two surviving groups of the hominid family came in more frequent contact in Europe, beginning 40,000 years ago. Each made stone tools, used fire and had equally large brains. But the Neanderthals, longtime Europeans, were robust with heavy brow ridges and forward-projecting faces. The modern humans, presumably migrants from Africa, were taller and lighter-boned with smaller, less protruding faces. Still, there was a family resemblance.

The museum technicians drew on fossils from the site in La Ferrassie in France for much of the rest of the skeleton, notably the skull. Some leg and arm bones and pelvic parts were created from the original specimen, discovered in a limestone quarry in the Neander Valley of Germany.

The Neanderthals apparently made their last stand in the Iberian peninsula less than 30,000 years ago. The causes of their extinction are still debated. Did modern humans outcompete them for resources? Kill them in combat? Breed with them, so that some of their genes lived on, as they were replaced as a recognizably separate people?

Looking at the reconstructed skeleton, Dr. Tattersall said it was clearer than ever that Neanderthals were not a human subspecies but a separate hominid species, Homo neanderthalensis, a view held by many paleontologists. Dr. Tattersall is the author, with Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz of the University of Pittsburgh, of "Extinct Humans." (Westview Press, 2000).

Dr. Tattersall's eye ran over the anatomical differences. The Neanderthal's shoulders are wider than a human's. The pelvis is also wider, even in males. Some scientists once suspected that the wide pelvis enabled Neanderthals to carry a child longer than nine months, giving birth to larger, more developed infants. But that view is now doubted.

The Neanderthal has shorter forearms and shins, a broader trunk and virtually no waist. The rib cage is a pronounced difference; instead of tapering off, as in humans, it is large and more bell-shaped. And there is the heavy brow ridge, sloping forehead and forward-projecting face.

Attached at the skeleton's neck is a small hyoid bone, which would have anchored the muscles of the tongue and other parts of a voice box apparatus. Found at Kebara cave, this hyoid is a slightly enlarged version of the human hyoid and nothing like similar bones in apes. Some scientists see this as evidence that Neanderthals may have had some capacity for articulate speech.

Dr. Tattersall is skeptical. He thinks Neanderthals had "an essentially symbol-free culture," meaning that they probably lacked the cognitive ability to reduce the world around them to symbols expressed in words and art. In contrast, the Cro-Magnons, as their contemporary modern humans in Europe are called, were creating dazzling art on their cave walls, evidence of a major advance in abstract thought and presumably articulate speech.

Dr. Trinkaus of St. Louis insists that the behavioral attributes of Neanderthals are an open question. They were clearly different anatomically from modern humans, he said, but "the unresolved issue is how important are those differences in Neanderthal behavior — how elaborate was their language or their social systems, what do the differences mean." (Dr. Trinkaus wrote "The Neandertals" (Knopf, 1993) in collaboration with Dr. Pat Shipman, now affiliated with Pennsylvania State University.)

However much Neanderthals and modern humans differed, Dr. Tattersall said: "What Neanderthals did, how they managed in extreme environments, they did very well. It was only Homo sapiens, it seems, that they couldn't cope with."

The Neanderthal skeleton will be part of "The First Europeans: Treasures From the Hills of Atapuerca," an exhibit of recent hominid fossil and artifact finds in northern Spain. These include material of Neanderthal ancestors dating back 800,000 years. The show was organized by Spanish scientists, with Dr. Tattersall as a co-curator.

Writing in the current issue of the magazine Natural History, one organizer, Dr. Juan Luis Arsuaga of the Complutense University in Madrid, said that reconstructions of hominids much more primitive than Neanderthals often seemed less startling, perhaps because they look something like living chimpanzees.

"But there is no familiar equivalent to the Neanderthal, so similar to us, so human yet so different," Dr. Arsuaga wrote. "To come across a Neanderthal, even a reconstructed one, is a thrilling experience. It was no doubt even more thrilling to our ancestors, who met them in the flesh."



TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News; Miscellaneous; Unclassified
KEYWORDS: archaeology; crevolist; evolution; ggg; godsgravesglyphs; history; homosapiens; humans; mangosalsa; multiregionalism; neandertal; neandertals; neanderthal; neanderthals
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To: Pharmboy
Standing 5 feet 4 1/2 inches, thought to be a typical height of a Neanderthal man, the skeleton will be on display at the museum, in New York City, in an exhibit opening on Jan. 11.

One major error was to show it compared to modern (and by historic standards) gigantic man. The average French male from the 17th century was 5 feet 2 inches and weighed scarcely over 100 pounds. Cro magnon folks living under hunting/gathering conditions back in the days when Neanderthals still lived were not likely to have been much larger than their 17th century descendents. Also, the Neaderthal had a much larger brain than modern man. So, so much for the size argument.
21 posted on 12/31/2002 5:05:36 PM PST by aruanan
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To: Pharmboy
You or anyone on your ping list venture a guess as to what function that bell-shaped thoracic cage served?

Off hand, I'd say that ol' Neandy could have had one whopping big colon in there. Yet another link to Hillary.

22 posted on 12/31/2002 5:05:40 PM PST by PatrickHenry
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To: Sabertooth
Perfect...glad you're not really extinct, ST!
23 posted on 12/31/2002 5:06:16 PM PST by Pharmboy
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To: Pharmboy
Uh, maybe protection of the internal organs in their quest for food.....y'know, they weren't exactly raisin' cattle in those times !!
24 posted on 12/31/2002 5:06:20 PM PST by Ku Commando
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To: aruanan
Neaderthal

Here's an "n".
25 posted on 12/31/2002 5:07:11 PM PST by aruanan
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To: Pharmboy
With the wider hips, provided support/protection for a larger gut for digesting coarser food? Compare the gut from a grass eater to a carnivore...
26 posted on 12/31/2002 5:07:47 PM PST by null and void
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To: aruanan
The size issue is a good point, but there have been some Homo erectus fossils found that were six feet tall.

As far as the brain goes, the Neanders had more cerebellum to control the muscle mass--not frontal lobage. That gave them a large braincase. They were likely pretty dumb.

27 posted on 12/31/2002 5:09:07 PM PST by Pharmboy
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To: PatrickHenry
Sizeable lung function also comes to mind? ... A Monica precursor?
28 posted on 12/31/2002 5:09:13 PM PST by MHGinTN
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To: Pharmboy
As far as the brain goes, the Neanders had more cerebellum to control the muscle mass--not frontal lobage. That gave them a large braincase. They were likely pretty dumb.

Come on, you should know from comparative anatomy that your argument for greater room for the cerebellum is invalid since much much larger and more active animals than man had extremely tiny brains compared to body size. Besides, degree of innervation in muscle mass is a function of muscle use, not of cerebellum size.
29 posted on 12/31/2002 5:17:29 PM PST by aruanan
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To: Pharmboy
As far as the brain goes, the Neanders had more cerebellum to control the muscle mass--not frontal lobage. That gave them a large braincase.

I think it was related to their gigantic colons. It takes a lot of control to handle something like that.

30 posted on 12/31/2002 5:19:48 PM PST by PatrickHenry
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To: Pharmboy
Is that a female pelvis to the right?
31 posted on 12/31/2002 5:27:34 PM PST by Little Bill
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To: Pharmboy
ROFL! You can bet the cave on it.
32 posted on 12/31/2002 6:53:16 PM PST by lizma
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To: Pharmboy
This is interesting, but not hardly surprising. Because, today's humans come in all shapes and sizes. What we call today as a physiological "normal" is no more then an "average" found in a community of "healthy" people aged 20 to 40 years old.

There is nothing really inconsistent in this reconstructed Neanderthal that has not been seen often on x-rays at any major medical institution. So, either we still have these Neanderthals walking the streets today, or some of us have a lot of Neanderthal in our blood.

33 posted on 12/31/2002 6:54:26 PM PST by Doug Fiedor
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To: Doug Fiedor
You may be right:


34 posted on 12/31/2002 6:58:16 PM PST by PatrickHenry
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To: PatrickHenry
bump
35 posted on 12/31/2002 7:07:23 PM PST by Centurion2000
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To: Pharmboy
"I appreciate the recognition"

Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer

36 posted on 12/31/2002 7:18:49 PM PST by APBaer
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To: PatrickHenry; null and void; Ku Commando
Off hand, I'd say that ol' Neandy could have had one whopping big colon in there.

But the rib cage isn't protecting the intenstines, but mainly the lungs, heart, spleen, stomach and most of the liver.

I have read that their bone mass was denser. Maybe their lung mass was larger to compensate for all the extra weight. All in all a less efficient model. Didn't work as well as the competition and evolution is a tough task master.

37 posted on 12/31/2002 7:19:07 PM PST by lizma
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To: Pharmboy
Thanks and Happy New Year to you.
38 posted on 12/31/2002 7:22:38 PM PST by aculeus
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To: aruanan
Cranial Vault
Large brains - cranial capacities up to 1700 cc
Sloping forehead
Skull is long and narrow with a pronounced occipital bun

From UCSB...it's all in the occiput...look at the data...they were stoopid(sic)

39 posted on 12/31/2002 7:46:03 PM PST by Pharmboy
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To: PatrickHenry
I'm just a retired research physiologist. What do I know?

But, be careful where you point fingers now. This stuff can get really, really touchy real quick. And, much of what some of us would think on first glance ain't exactly true. That is part of why there are no published papers on the issue.

In truth, some physiologists cannot help but see physical differences in races and sub-races of people. In one instance, I can almost always tell the "race" (country of origin) of three different types of people simply by their heart catherization (of which I have seen hundreds) film. The point is, different people are different.

Yet, in the scheme of things, they are still "Us." Some of "us," however, have greatly different aggravation levels than others of us. The above article hints to some of that. We see other problems domestically.

40 posted on 12/31/2002 8:53:35 PM PST by Doug Fiedor
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