Last updated April 12, 2018 at 2:14 pm
Neanderthals may have looked grumpy and aggressive, but it’s likely they were just cold and tired.
Advanced digital reconstructions and computer simulations have thrown some light onto the reason why Neanderthal faces protruded a lot more than those of modern humans, and it appears to have nothing to do with the need to evolve a fierce bite. In fact, our extinct relatives were not particularly strong biters.
More likely, says an international research team that included four Australians, they got their distinctive looks thanks to chilly conditions and a lifestyle that required a great deal of energy. Most notably, they possessed an impressively wide nasal passage that allowed them to inhale a lot of air at a time.
The researchers used both finite-element analysis (FEA) and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to test three adaptive hypotheses using 3D models of Neanderthals, modern humans and a close outgroup (Homo heidelbergensis).
FEA revealed few differences between the three subjects in their capacities to sustain high anterior tooth loadings.
CFD showed that the nasal cavities of Neanderthals, and especially modern humans, could condition air more efficiently than those of H. heidelbergensis, suggesting that both evolved to better withstand cold and/or dry climates than less derived Homo.
Neanderthals also could move considerably more air through the nasal pathway than the others, consistent, the researchers say, with the proposition that their facial morphology evolved to “reflect improved capacities to better condition cold, dry air, and to move greater air volumes in response to higher energetic requirements”.
The paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.