Scientists Discover Evidence Of Swimmer’s Ear In Neanderthals

17 Août, 2019, 10:22 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • New research revealed that abnormal bony growths in the ear canal also called ‘surfer's ear’ occurred frequently in our ancient cousins who died out around 40,000 years ago. — AFP pic

Researchers examined the ear canals of ancient humans, including early modern humans and Neanderthals, finding abnormal bony growths were common among Neanderthals. They occur more frequently in men, and even though the growths are often benign, they can lead to hearing loss.

They are caused by repeated exposure to cold water and wind, which makes the bones surrounding the ear canal thicken to defend the inner ear.

The authors wrote that their finding builds on previous scattered observations of Neanderthals exploiting aquatic resources, though archaeological proof in the form of fish remains are harder to come by because numerous former coastal sites are now underwater.

This creates constriction in the ear canal, sometimes to the point of complete blockage.

Neanderthals were spread across a large range and they drew resources from many habitats, which could explain some discrepancies.

The bony growths, also called exostoses, show up in many Neanderthal skulls found in Europe and southwest Asia. A 2017 paper, noting the prevalence of the condition in Neanderthals and early humans, suggests that it was an evolutionary adaptation to early hominins diving into cold lakes, rivers and seas to collect food.

Around half of the 23 Neanderthal remains examined exhibited mild to severe EAEs - at least twice the frequency seen in nearly any other population studied.

"An exceptionally high frequency of external auditory exostoses among the Neanderthals, and a more modest level among high latitude earlier Upper Paleolithic modern humans, indicate a higher frequency of aquatic resource exploitation among both groups of humans than is suggested by the archeological record", Dr. Trinkaus said.

"In particular, it reinforces the foraging abilities and resource diversity of the Neanderthals".

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The researchers caution that they did not establish a definite connection to aquatic foraging, however.

The geographic distribution of EAEs seen in Neanderthals does not exhibit a definitive correlation with proximity to ancient water sources nor to cooler climates, as would be expected. Because of this, the researchers suggest that multiple factors were involved, including environment and genetic predisposition.

So, another possibility is that Neanderthals had a genetic predisposition to bone growths in their ears.

According to new research, Neanderthals seem to have been more prone to surfer's ear than any other ancient group.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The Neanderthals were a cousin species of humans but not a direct ancestor - the two species split from a common ancestor - that perished around 50,000 years ago.

These were the original "cavemen", historically thought to be dim-witted and brutish compared to modern humans.

Additionally, their diets and behaviour were surprisingly flexible.


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