Scientists have determined that the shape of Neanderthals' skulls helped them survive in cold weather. This adaptation allowed the ancient hominin to settle into Europe and the Middle East.
This also gave them larger nose so they can breathe more air.
Scientists have finally been able to tackle a much-debated topic about the shape of Neanderthals' skulls compared to modern humans. They weren't sure if the shape of the Neanderthals' face gave them an improved ability to bite or to warm the cold air with their nose. Now, scientists have found the answer.
Researchers published a paper in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B and were able to determine that the shape of Neanderthals' skull allowed to breathe better in cold weather. The international team of researchers was led by Stephen Wroe from the University of New England.
Wroe says they determined that the Neanderthals' breathing was twice as effective as compared to the breathing of modern humans. He cites the shape of the skull gives Neanderthals a distinctive face that represents the adaptation to their high energy lifestyle. Wroe adds that this could be attributed to Neanderthals having to chase large animals or needing to stay warm during the Ice Age.
Scientists examined the similarities and differences between different species of humans. In total, they used 11 Homo sapien skulls, three Neanderthal skulls, and one Homo heidelbergensis, another extinct hominin. One of the Homo sapien skulls dates back to the Ice Age.
At first, they investigated the possibility of Neanderthals having a better bite by using computer simulations. They found no significant difference between the species and the theory was then eliminated shortly after. Researchers, however, were able to find that humans can bite slightly harder despite having weaker jaw muscles.
On the second study, the team focused on the nose of the Neanderthals. Using finite-element analysis and computational fluid dynamics, researchers discovered that Neanderthals were more effective in warming and humidifying incoming air more than Homo heidelbergensis. They were not as effective at warming cold air as modern humans.
Neanderthals were better than both species at getting air in and out of their bodies fast. Researchers found that Neanderthal nasal passages were 29 percent larger than the nasal passages of modern humans. They also found that Homo heidelbergensis was also able to move air through their nasal passages at a greater rate than humans.