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Creation 36(3):8, July 2014

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Neandertals spoke—why the surprise?

Biblical creationists have long regarded Neandertals as fully human, post-Flood (indeed, post-Babel) descendants of Adam. For a long time, however, it was assumed by secularists that these people, ‘dated’ to as much as 300,000 years ago, were incapable of human speech. (This assumption also suited the most common ‘old-earth creationist’ position. Such so-called ‘progressive creationism’ tries to maintain Genesis as historical apart from the biblical time frame by accepting secular dates, so is locked into regarding Neandertals as spiritless prehuman animals. But this idea suffered a body-blow recently when DNA showed they interbred with other humans—see creation.com/neandergenes.)

Already in 1989, the assumption that they couldn’t talk was challenged by the discovery of a Neandertal hyoid bone in Israel’s Kebara cave. The hyoid, a bone associated with the larynx (voicebox), looked just like ours. This bone, the one bone in the body not attached to another bone, supports the root of the tongue, so is crucial in our speech ability. In non-human primates, its placement does not permit speech. Now an international team has determined via 3D imaging and careful micro-modelling that the Kebara hyoid was actually used just like ours—in complex human speech. The analysis was possible since “internal architecture reflects the loadings to which a bone is routinely subjected”. Prof. Stephen Wroe of Australia’s University of New England commented, “If Neanderthals also had language then they were truly human, too”.

This further confirmation of the Genesis framework of human history is seen by secularists as pushing the origins of speech back to a surprising degree. A similar hyoid has been found in Spain in association with Homo heidelbergensis.These people were extremely similar to Neandertals, and also fully human, a post-Babel population. Analyses of certain vocal tract and auditory structures from their crania have already suggested that they were capable of speech. Creationists expect that similar modelling on this hyoid, when complete, will very likely show that this individual, too, had modern human speech capability, contrary to the even greater alleged ‘dates’ (500,000 years ago).

  • Neanderthals could speak like modern humans, study suggests, bbc.com, 20 December 2013.
  • Micro-biomechanics of the Kebara 2 hyoid and its implications for speech in Neanderthals, plosone.org, 18 December 2013.