Saturday, January 15, 2011

Neanderthal: Big Nose, Big Mystery

"The Neanderthal Enigma: Why Were their Noses So Big?" (January 14, 2011)

"A mystery of Neanderthals for more than a century is one that's literally as plain as the noses on their faces — why did they have such big schnozes?

"One common answer suggests their faces somehow helped our extinct relatives deal with the extreme cold they faced. Now, however, scientists find that Neanderthal faces were not built for the cold — meaning that no one still knows why Neanderthals had such noses.

"The enigma that such a large nose poses is that it seems like an excellent way to lose heat — a paradox, given that Neanderthals lived when glaciers dominated Europe. Modern humans and other animals, in contrast, typically have evolved significantly narrower, longer noses in cold climates. [The Many Mysteries of Neanderthals]

"Scientists have tried solving this mystery by suggesting there were equally giant sinuses behind the broad noses. Some proposed the sinuses helped warm the air before it entered the lungs so Neanderthals were able to keep their bodies warm. Others speculated the sinuses actually had the exact opposite function, helping Neanderthals rid their bodies of heat, preventing them from drenching in sweat that could have cooled them off even more...."

The bottom line seems to be that we just don't know why the Neanderthal Schnoz was of such noble proportions. Turns out, their sinuses were around the same size as ours - and some critters, like rats and macaque monkeys, get smaller sinuses in the cold. Not that Neanderthals or us are rats or monkeys - but we're not all that dissimilar, either.

What's the big deal with those big noses?

"...'One of the things that's really fascinating about Neanderthals is that they are perhaps the most closely related species to humans that have ever lived, and in that way can help us really understand the evolutionary forces that shaped us,' [University of California's Tim] Weaver added...."

From the Lemming's point of view, tweezing out what's happened in the last few billion years is more fascinating than an Agatha Christie mystery - and the Lemming likes Agatha Christie mysteries. Which is another topic.

Although a recent National Geographic documentary, "Human Ape," pointed out that the human and human-like fossils dug up to date would barely fill the back of a pickup: we've learned a lot in just the last half-century.

Partly, in the Lemming's opinion, we've learned how much we still have to learn.

About that photo: It's from a slideshow on the website, that starts with the title "Your Ancestor, the Caveman." Since it's a sculpted reconstruction of a Neanderthal man's head, some of the Lemming's ancestors may very well have looked like that. If your family tree doesn't have roots in western Europe, or other locales where Neanderthals lived: it's not quite so likely. (May 7, 2010)

The Lemming doesn't look a whole lot like that Neanderthal: but the Lemming doesn't look quite like his Campbell ancestors, either. Change happens. And that's another topic.

Related posts:
More related posts, atYet more, about the Lemming's take on science, religion, and facts:

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