Unlocking the Mystery of Neanderthals' Big Nose

It wasn't oversize because of cold temps
By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 17, 2011 10:46 AM CST
Neanderthal man may have been ugly to our eyes, but don't blame the cold for his unusual evolution.   (?erix!)
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(Newser) – If you think Neanderthals, with their broad foreheads and big noses, were, well, not so attractive, don't blame the cold for their looks. For 150 years, scientists have theorized that Neanderthals' distinctive appearance was an adaptation that allowed them to withstand ice-age Europe's freezing conditions—but new research has found that wasn't the case. The thinking used to be that Neanderthals' enlarged sinuses helped warm the cold air, but research shows that Neanderthals' sinuses were no larger than ours, and aren't responsible for their oversize nasal cavity.

"Our findings show that their sinuses were no larger, relative to the skull size, than in Homo sapiens who lived in temperate climates," notes an anthropologist, who adds a new twist: "It suggests that Neanderthals evolved in much warmer temperatures before moving into Europe and then they moved south to avoid the glaciers." And if that's the case, it may give rise to new theories about why they died out, reports the Telegraph. "If they were restricted to living in warmer refuges at the height of the last ice age, it is possible their populations became too isolated and small to survive," he adds.

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