Monday, 3 October 2016

Talking Neanderthals Give Creationists Earache!

Tympanic membrane (grey), ossicular chain (yellow, green, red), and bony inner ear (blue) of a modern human with a One-Eurocent coin for scale.
© A. Stoessel & P. Gunz
Source
Morphology and function of Neandertal and modern human ear ossicles

Creationists struggle with archaic human like Neanderthals, Homo erectus and H. habilis trying out various ways to dismiss them as diseased and deformed individuals, forgeries, etc.

The slightly less delusional ones have learned that there are limits to the amount of evidence that can be denied without looking more than a little insane, so have learned to accept a form of evolution, albeit a ludicrously rapid one which requires several fully-formed new species to spring into existence every generation. To these, all hominids are merely minor variations and have all developed from the fully human people who supposedly got off the Ark about 4000 years ago.

Noah quickly learned to make boats! He'll learn to smelt iron, make saws and axes, fell trees and saw the planks tomorrow while the good weather lasts! The animals from all over the world should be arriving any day now!
According to arch-creationist Ken Ham's Answersingenesis, Noah and his family were H. erectus, as were Adam and Eve. No! Really! He has no evidence for this but can't think how else to reconcile the available evidence with his favourite creation myth, so has concluded this must be so because he can't be wrong in his unshakeable belief in his favourite creation myth. Ham has bent so far backwards to try to make the undeniable science fit his creation myth that he has virtually reinvented it, or at best produced a sciencey-looking Mk.II model with go-faster stripes.

This means that a massive wooden boat was built by four people with a pre-modern brain about half the size of an anatomically modern human (AMH) in a couple of weeks whilst touring the world rounding up animals. Yes! I know! But we are talking about creationists here, not normal people!

And of course, to the point in hand, this means that Neanderthals, with their large brains (slightly larger than AMHs) and AMHs evolved their large brains together since they are merely a minor variant of modern humans who have since dies out. Unfortunately, science once again doesn't support the Hamster's Mk.II creation myth.

We now have evidence that Neanderthals and AMHs evolved their larger brains independently from a small-brained common ancestor, almost certainly H. erectus, possibly, in the case of H. neanderthalensis via an intermediate such as H. heidelbergensis, H. antecessor or H. ergaster. The evidence comes from the way the small bones of the inner ear, the auditory ossicles, adapted to fit the changing shape of the ear cavity as the skulls of the two species enlarged to accommodate an enlarged brain, yet needed to maintain the same function.

This evidence was presented in an open access paper coming from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology a couple of days ago.

Significance
Middle ear ossicles are critical for audition and rarely preserved in fossils. Based on microcomputed tomography images, our comparative 3D shape analysis of Neandertal ossicles shows striking shape differences between Neandertals and anatomically modern humans (AMHs). However, these morphological differences do not affect the functional properties of the ossicles, potentially indicating consistent aspects of vocal communication in Neandertals and AMHs. Instead, a strong relationship between ossicle morphology and tympanic cavity architecture is found.

Abstract
The diminutive middle ear ossicles (malleus, incus, stapes) housed in the tympanic cavity of the temporal bone play an important role in audition. The few known ossicles of Neandertals are distinctly different from those of anatomically modern humans (AMHs), despite the close relationship between both human species. Although not mutually exclusive, these differences may affect hearing capacity or could reflect covariation with the surrounding temporal bone. Until now, detailed comparisons were hampered by the small sample of Neandertal ossicles and the unavailability of methods combining analyses of ossicles with surrounding structures. Here, we present an analysis of the largest sample of Neandertal ossicles to date, including many previously unknown specimens, covering a wide geographic and temporal range. Microcomputed tomography scans and 3D geometric morphometrics were used to quantify shape and functional properties of the ossicles and the tympanic cavity and make comparisons with recent and extinct AMHs as well as African apes. We find striking morphological differences between ossicles of AMHs and Neandertals. Ossicles of both Neandertals and AMHs appear derived compared with the inferred ancestral morphology, albeit in different ways. Brain size increase evolved separately in AMHs and Neandertals, leading to differences in the tympanic cavity and, consequently, the shape and spatial configuration of the ossicles. Despite these different evolutionary trajectories, functional properties of the middle ear of AMHs and Neandertals are largely similar. The relevance of these functionally equivalent solutions is likely to conserve a similar auditory sensitivity level inherited from their last common ancestor.

Alexander Stoessel, Romain David, Philipp Gunz, Tobias Schmidt, Fred Spoor, and Jean-Jacques Hublin
Morphology and function of Neandertal and modern human ear ossicles
PNAS 2016
; published ahead of print September 26, 2016, doi:10.1073/pnas.1605881113

A press release from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology explains the significance of this find for understanding the role of speech in Neanderthals:

Based on the results of the morphological comparison the research team examined the potential reasons for these different morphologies. In order to see if these differences may affect hearing capacity of Neandertals and modern humans or reflects a tight relationship with the base of the skull they also analyzed the structures surrounding the ear ossicles. The outcome of this analysis was surprising, again since the functional parameters of the Neandertal and modern human middle ear are largely similar despite contrasting morphologies.

Similar communication skills in archaic humans
Instead, the team found the ear ossicles strongly related to the morphology of the surrounding cranial structures which also differ between the two human groups. The researchers attribute these differences to different evolutionary trajectories that Neandertals and modern humans pursued in order to increase their brain volume which also impacted the structures of the cranial base which the middle ear is a part of. “For us these results could be indicative for consistent aspects of vocal communication in anatomically modern humans and Neandertals that were already present in their common ancestor” says Jean-Jacques Hublin who is an author of this study and continues “these findings should be a basis for continuing research on the nature of the spoken language in archaic hominins”.

It is clear therefore that AMHs (H. sapiens) and H. neanderthalensis evolved large brains independently and also very probably evolved sophisticated speech facilitated by this enlarging brain. Indeed, it is hard to explain this enlarged brain in both species in terms other than an increased ability to learn and communicate since the survival skills would already have been well developed before the two species diverged while they had the smaller, H. erectus brain.

So, what Bible literalist creationists now need to explain is how exactly did a primitive human with a small brain and probably only the rudiments of language, if they had language at all, not only managed to build a massive wooden boat which would have required the use of metal if only with which to make the saws to saw the planks, managed to understand God's instructions and converse in the sophisticated language related in the Bible, and also had the intellectual skills to 'sin'.

The problem with these Hamster attempts to force-fit reality into his preferred model is that the pieces never seem to fit together. It's almost as though he's doing a jigsaw puzzle in complete disregard for the real picture because he just knows what the picture should be. The pieces don't fit and have to be bent out of shape or cut down to be forced into place and whole chunks are being sketched in by hand.

The findings of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, must be keeping the creation industry frauds awake at night.

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