Recent research may provide new insights into humans’ closest extinct relative, the Neanderthals. One of the many ways that Neanderthal anatomy differed from our own came to light after a fossilized ear bone from a young Neanderthal child was discovered. The findings included a skull, jaw, vertebrae, ribs, and hand phalanges. But what was most interesting was a very complete left temporal bone with an auditory ossicle inside, including a complete “stapes.” This bone, which lies in the middle ear of humans and other mammals, conducts sound vibrations to the inner ear. In Neanderthals, the stapes was decidedly different in its structure than what we are familiar with by today’s standards. This may mean that they heard sounds differently than humans do today. There is a possibility that this could have contributed to their downfall.
P.S. The stapes is the smallest bone in the body.
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