Hear a Neanderthal Speak!


Florida did something interesting, and even better, it was done at the university where I am doing my grad work!

I always thought guys that burped the alphabet were neanderthals and it turns out I was right.  Robert McCarthy of Florida Atlantic University’s Boca Raton campus worked with Phil Lieberman (who calculated the size of the neanderthal’s larynx based on skull fossils) to actually reconstruct the vocal tract of the Neanderthal and simulate the sound of his voice.  Hear it here.

McCarthy describes the sound as “part croaking frog, part burping human”, saying that Neanderthals “would not have been able to produce the quantal vowels that form the basis of spoken language”.

Pretty cool!


Update: reader Thad also blogged on this today.


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  1. I just blogged that today! There are claims that the voice sounds like that of a New Zealander. As one of the latter (I will forgo evaluation of my Neanderthal status), I say that’s a bit of a stretch…

  2. Does anyone know if they’ve isolated enough Neanderthal DNA to say what gene groups are different from modern humans??

    Anyone read Hominids? It’ll give you a new take on the big hairy folk as they figured out the whole quantum computer thing in a parallel universe and they didn’t posses the defective DNA strand that leads to religious beliefs.

  3. I don’t know how much they’ve worked out, but I do recall reading somewhere that they were subject to similar mutation to ours which would have caused red hair among them as well.

  4. “Hominids” sounds interesting, J.F. I had always assumed that religion results from psychological structures being exapted from earlier, useful constructs.

    Is there much thought that it could be down to physical genes?

  5. RV, As far as I know Hominids is a work of complete ficion.

    Had to google Eddie Izzard. Not known in these parts.

  6. “Um…I fink I should be leader…erm…cos I’ve got teef.”

    Rav, by the time I read your second post, I’d already Ctrl+C’d your first post so I could suggest that you’d been reading Terry Pratchett. Right country, right sense of humor, wrong Englishman … I (heart) both of them, regardless of age and penchant for cross-dressing.

    And here I thought my cousins and I were so evolved for being able to burp the alphabet. Sigh.

  7. Bee– My best mate (and an uncle, for that matter) both still have rather simian coats of fur.

    Not me, though. I’m glabrous.

  8. For what it’s worth, I’ve never been able to burp the alphabet. Never even learned to belch on queue either. I found it rather irksome, actually.

  9. Wow,

    I’ve always wondered about the Neanderthals.

    I’ve heard that their overall brains were larger than ours.

    I’ve heard that the ancestors of modern man wiped them out.

    I have serious questions that the world might be a better place if they’d won that one.

    Could we have “gotten along”? What would they be like if they were still here?

    Was it really that we were just too violent and blood thirsty for them?

    Would they have “gone” anyway, without any help from us?

    Are “they” really “us” did we just evolve? (Although there may have been at least some inter-breading, I think that last one’s been pretty decently disproved).

    It’s always been fun, for me, to speculate.

    So, they burped when they talked. That sort of ruins the illusion for me.


  10. They latest research suggests that Neanderthalis was far too specialized for “ice age” conditions, and sapiens simply out-competed them as the climate became more temperate.

    Also, Neanderthalis is seen as a cousin of Sapiens, not an ancestor. It is thought that almost certainly we co-existed, but there was no “mixing” of species (though some researchers do think that modern Sapiens do carry some of the Neanderthal genome– the evidence is, however, slim).

    It’s been a while since I read up on this, and I’m writing this off the cuff without Wiki.

    Can anyone correct or support me here?

  11. Rav – I read an article about this in Sciam a couple months ago, but I can’t find the issue. From what I remember, there is some controversy over whether certain geographic sects of modern humans once cross-bred with prior lineages such as Neanderthals and/or homo erectus. The mainstream school of thought is that we’re all descended from a group of Africans that migrated out of Africa about 100,000 years ago. But there is some (shaky, but interesting) evidence that some Asians are descendents of cross-breeding with homo erectus. And the evidence also suggests that people in various geographic regions have similar genomes, which suggests that they all descended from the same cross-breeding. But, as you mentioned, the evidence is slim and shaky – it’s not much more than an interesting idea to explore at this point.

  12. That’s the sound of their voice? No wonder why homo sapiens won the day. Imagine a great battle ( IF they truly battled ) with the sounds of homo sapien warriors crying out, intimidating, advancing. Then imagine the neanderthals “meeping” as if they were a herd of muppets on helium.

    Twasn’t the planes that killed the beast; it was his friggin’ larynx!

  13. Then imagine the neanderthals “meeping” as if they were a herd of muppets on helium.

    Damn! There goes another keyboard!

    Cue Rygel XVI!

  14. After days of extensive audio and linguistic analysis, I believe I’ve discovered what this Neanderthal is saying:


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