Neandertal vocal tract reconstructions: A critical appraisal

D. B. Burr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

10 Scopus citations


Although numerous arguments have been advanced against Lieberman & Crelin's hypothesis that Neandertal man lacked fully developed human speech, few of these have been noted in the recent literature. Fewer still have criticized Lieberman & Crelin specifically on their anatomical approach. This is, however, perhaps the weakest point in the hypothesis. The method of vocal tract reconstruction used by Lieberman & Crelin was not accurate due to the use of casts which are stylized models rather than accurate representations. Their comparisons of human newborns and adult Neandertal can be criticized on many grounds. Furthermore, their attempt to analyze the total functional complex underlying speech fails because of their inability to use parallel resonators in the acoustic analysis. Their method of placement of the larynx may be subject to errors due to deformation of the fossil, drying of the skull, and effects of fossilization. Relations between the tongue and larynx upon which Lieberman & Crelin's conclusions are partly based are totally invalid. Their conceptions of the posture of fossil men are also in error. Although Lieberman & Crelin retreat from the usual formation of hypotheses based on speculation alone, the anatomic reconstructions are a weak link in their hypothesis. Until this weakness can be corrected, their contribution towards solving the question of speech in Neandertals remains limited.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-290
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1976

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology

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