From: Reuters
Published April 16, 2008 12:11 PM

Neanderthals speak again after 30,000 years

LONDON (Reuters) - Neanderthals have spoken out for the first time in 30,000 years, with the help of scientists who have simulated their voices using fossil evidence and a computer synthesizer.

Robert McCarthy, an anthropologist at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, used new reconstructions of Neanderthal vocal tracts to work out how they would have sounded, NewScientist.com reported on Wednesday.

The conclusion is that Neanderthals spoke, but sounded rather different to us. Specifically, the ancient humans' lacked the "quantal vowel" sounds that underlie modern speech and which provide cues that help speakers understand one another.

By modeling the sounds that a Neanderthal larynx would have made, McCarthy's team engineered the sound of a Neanderthal saying "e." (To listen to McCarthy's simulation of a Neanderthal voice, visit: http://media.newscientist.com/data/images/ns/av/dn13672A1.wav).

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In contrast to a modern human "e," the Neanderthal version lacks a quantal hallmark, which helps a listener distinguish the word "beat" from "bit," for instance. (To listen to a simulation of the modern human voice, visit: http://media.newscientist.com/data/images/ns/av/dn13672A2.wav)

McCarthy, who based his reconstructions on 50,000-year-old fossils from France, aims eventually to simulate an entire Neanderthal sentence.

Neanderthals were a dead-end offshoot of the human line who inhabited Europe and parts of west and central Asia. Researchers believe they survived in Europe until the arrival of modern humans about 30,000 years ago.

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Matthew Jones)

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