Neanderthals are often depicted as a straight spike and a bad posture. However, these prehistoric people are more similar to us than many accept. Scientists at the University of Zurich have shown that the Neanderthals have walked upright just like modern humans – thanks to the virtual reconstruction of the pelvis and spine of a very well-preserved Neanderthal skeleton found in France.
An upright, well – balanced posture is one of the defining features of Homo sapiensIn contrast, the first reconstructions of the Neanderthals made in the early 20th century depicted them as only partially upright. These reconstructions are based on the widely-preserved skeleton of an adult male Neanderthal found in La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France.
Since the 1950s scientists have known that the image of Neanderthals as a hunched caveman is not accurate. Their similarities with themselves – both in evolutionary and behavioral terms – have long been known, but in recent years the pendulum has turned in the opposite direction. "Focusing on differences is once again in fashion," says Martin Hessler, UZH's evolutionary medicine specialist. For example, recent studies have used several isolated vertebrae to conclude that Neanderthals still lack a well-developed double S-shaped spine.
However, the virtual reconstruction of the scaffolding from La Chapelle-aux-Saints is already evidence of the opposite. This computer-generated anatomical model was created by the research group led by Martin Heissler of the University of Zurich and includes Eric Trinkaus of the University of Washington at St. Louis. Researchers have succeeded in showing that both the individual and the Neanderthals in general had a curve lumbar region and neck, just like today's people.
Sacram, vertebrae and signs of wear as evidence
When they reconstructed the pelvis, the researchers found that the saccharum was positioned in the same way as in modern humans. This led them to conclude that the Neanderthals had a lumbar region with well-developed curvature. By placing the individual lumbar and cervical vertebrae, they are able to notice that the distortion of the spine is even more pronounced. The very close contact between the spinous processes – the bone protrusions from the back of each vertebrae – became clear, as well as the visible traces of wear, in part caused by the distortion of the spine.
Recognition of similarities
La Chapelle-aux-Saints scales of wear on the hip joint also point to Neanderthals who have a standing position similar to that of modern people. "Stress on the hip and the position of the pelvis is no different from our hip," says Haussler. This finding is supported by analyzes of other Neanderthal skeletons with enough residual vertebrae and pelvic bones. "In general, there is hardly any evidence to point to Neanderthals who have fundamentally different anatomy," explains Haussler. "Now is the time to recognize the major similarities between Neanderthals and modern humans and to shift the focus to the subtle biological and behavioral changes that occurred in people at the end of the pleistocene."