London (UPI) Jan 17, 2011
The broad foreheads and large noses of Neanderthals were not an adaptation to living in the cold of Europe's last ice age as long thought, researchers say.
Scientists have long attributed these facial differences from modern humans to an adaptation that allowed Neanderthals to live in the freezing conditions, believing our prehistoric human relatives had enlarged sinuses that helped warm the air as they breathed it in, The Daily Telegraph reported.
However, research using scans and X-ray images of Neanderthal skulls has revealed their sinuses were no bigger than modern humans who evolved in more temperate climates, and so had no affect on the size of their facial features.
"The view that Neanderthals were knuckle-dragging cave men who scraped a living by hunting large mammals on the frozen wastes of the tundra has been around since they were first discovered because they were known to live at a time when Europe was in the grip of the last Glacial Age," Todd Rae, an evolutionary anthropologist at Roehampton University in London, says.
"As a result a lot of their physical traits have been attributed as adaptations that helped them live in the cold, even when it doesn't make any sense."
The finding suggests Neanderthals evolved in much warmer temperatures before moving into Europe and then moved south to avoid the glaciers, he says.
It also "raises other possibilities for what caused Neanderthals to eventually die out," Rae says. "If they were restricted to living in warmer refuges at the height of the last ice age, it is possible their populations became too isolated and small to survive."
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Davos, Switzerland (UPI) Jan 14, 2011
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