Could Neanderthals Speak?

Co-Authored with the New Bing

Did Neanderthals have what we would recognize as human-like speech? Did they have the morphology to produce the same or similar sounds as we can make? How do we know this? What evidence is there for them being able to speak? What evidence is there against it?

These are some of the questions that have fascinated researchers for decades, ever since the discovery of the first Neanderthal fossils. Speech is one of the most distinctive features of modern humans, and it is closely related to our cognitive and social abilities. But did our closest extinct relatives, the Neanderthals, share this capacity with us?

One of the critical anatomical structures involved in speech production is the hyoid bone, a horseshoe-shaped bone in the neck that supports the tongue and the larynx. The shape and position of the hyoid bone affect the size and shape of the vocal tract, influencing the range and quality of sounds that can be produced. Modern humans have a hyoid bone that is high and forward in the neck, allowing for a long and flexible vocal tract that can produce a variety of vowels and consonants. In contrast, most non-human primates have a low and backward hyoid bone, resulting in a short and rigid vocal tract that limits their vocal repertoire.

The first Neanderthal hyoid bone was discovered in 1989 in Israel, remarkably similar to modern humans. This suggested that Neanderthals had a vocal tract capable of producing human-like speech sounds. However, some researchers argued that the shape of the hyoid bone alone was insufficient to infer speech abilities and that other factors, such as the position of the larynx, the innervation of the tongue, and the brain structures involved in language processing, also needed to be considered.

Since then, more evidence has emerged to support the idea that Neanderthals could speak like modern humans. A recent study used computerized tomography scans and a comprehensive model from the field of auditory bioengineering to reconstruct the sound transmission through the outer and middle ear of Neanderthals. The results showed that Neanderthals had similar hearing capacities to modern humans, especially in the frequency range of human speech (1–6 kHz). This implies that Neanderthals evolved the auditory system to support a vocal communication system as efficient as modern human speech.

Another study used computer simulations to estimate the acoustic and articulatory potential of the Neanderthal vocal tract based on cranial anatomy and hyoid bone morphology. The results showed that Neanderthals could produce a range of vowels that overlapped with modern humans and some consonants. The authors concluded that Neanderthals had an articulatory capacity comparable to that of modern humans and that there was no reason to assume that they could not speak.

However, not all researchers agree that Neanderthals had human-like speech. Some have pointed out that speech is not only a matter of anatomy but also of cognition and culture. They have argued that speech requires symbolic thinking, complex grammar, and social learning, which may have been absent or limited in Neanderthals. However, as anyone up to date with Neanderthal research knows, they were extraordinarily complex beings with powerful minds and colorful cultures. They have also suggested that there may be other anatomical differences between Neanderthals and modern humans that could have affected their speech production, such as the shape of the thorax, the rib cage, and the diaphragm.

In conclusion, there is no definitive answer to whether Neanderthals could speak like modern humans. The available evidence suggests that they had similar auditory and vocal capacities to us, but there may have been other factors that influenced their communication abilities. More fossil discoveries and new analysis methods may shed more light on this intriguing question in the future.


: Arensburg B., Schepartz L.A., Tillier A.M., Vandermeersch B., Rak Y. (1989). A reappraisal of Homo neanderthalensis from Kebara Cave (Israel). American Journal of Physical Anthropology 79: 335–345.

: Lieberman P. (2007). Current views on Neanderthal speech capabilities: A reply to Boe et al. (2002). Journal of Phonetics 35: 552–563.

: Conde-Valverde M., Martínez I., Quam R.M., Rosa M., Velez A.D., Lorenzo C., Jarabo P., Bermúdez de Castro J.M., Carbonell E., Arsuaga J.L. (2020)

Published by sethchagi

I am a Paleoanthropology Student, so far with two degrees, in Anthropology and Human Behavioral Science, pursuing my B.A and then my PhD I love to read (like a lot) and write, I love my family, and I adore anthropology! Remember, never stop exploring and never stop learning! There is always more to learn!

One thought on “Could Neanderthals Speak?

  1. This is almost entirely written by AI. C’mon, man. Knock it off or I’ll tell the world that you are a fraud.


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