Tech UPTechnologyThe other way of breathing of Neanderthals

The other way of breathing of Neanderthals

The anatomical studies of the Neanderthal remains that have been carried out in recent years have not only provided us with clues about their possible appearance; From them, we have also been able to learn about some of the adaptations they developed in order to survive the last ice age and settle in especially cold and dry regions. Thus, in 2017, a team of researchers from different Argentine and Brazilian institutions pointed out in an essay published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that although the nose of our evolutionary cousins differed in shape and size from that of the first Homo sapiens Both species had a mechanism to heat and moisten the inspired air, which allowed them to thrive in these harsh climatic conditions.

Now, a new work coordinated by Asier Gómez-Olivencia, from the Department of Stratigraphy and Paleontology of the University of the Basque Country and Ikerbasque, the Basque Foundation for Science, delves into the respiratory mechanics of Neanderthals, which, according to details, was different of that of our ancestors. To reach that conclusion, Gómez-Olivenza and his collaborators built a digital model of a 60,000-year-old specimen known as Kebara 2, discovered in 1983 in the cave of the same name in Israel. As they comment in a statement, the scientists scanned the vertebrae and the fragments of ribs and pelvic bones recovered. Then, they devised a computer tool that allowed them to correct the deformations that the pieces presented and reposition them in three dimensions.

More lung capacity

In this way, they were able to determine that the ribs located in the lower part of the thorax were oriented more horizontally than ours. This, in the opinion of experts, suggests that Neanderthal respiration depended mainly on the diaphragm . In our species, however, in addition to this muscle, the rib cage itself is involved. “The differences between a Neanderthal thorax and that of a modern human are striking. The first is wider at the bottom; in addition, the position of the spine with respect to the ribs indicates that this structure was more stable ”, say researchers Daniel García Martínez and Markus Bastir, from the Paleoanthropology Group of the National Museum of Natural Sciences of Madrid, who have also participated in this initiative . García Martínez and Bastir had already anticipated in a previous study that Neanderthals most likely had greater lung capacity; Well, the new results seem to support your hypothesis.

“This is the culmination of 15 years of research focused on the Neanderthal thorax ,” explains Patricia Kramer of the University of Washington in Seattle. This anthropologist and bioengineer, one of the co-authors of the study, emphasizes that it is not easy to advance in this regard, since, due to their fragility, the ribs and spine are not as well preserved as other anatomical elements. In any case, he hopes that future genetic analyzes will provide additional clues about the respiratory physiology of these hominins that inhabited certain areas of Asia and Europe for 200,000 years, until they became extinct about 40,000 ago.

Reference: 3D virtual reconstruction of the Kebara 2 Neandertal thorax . Asier Gómez-Olivencia et al. Nature Communications . DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-06803-z

Images: Neanderthal: Allan Henderson / CC – via Flickr; Fossils and recreation: J. Trueba / Madrid Scientific Films – A. Gómez-Olivencia / A. Barash / E. Been

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