OCT 08, 2015 4:44 AM PDT

Tracking the Evolution of Hearing and Language

When the subject of early human species comes up, the focus tends to be on bones. Researchers want to know how big they were, how they looked. Other research focuses on what they could make or do. Did they have tools, or weapons? Could they hunt, did they roam or were they settled in one area?
A partial skull used in mapping the ear structure of early humans
There’s some new research though that looks at the hearing ability of two early hominin species Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus. These two species walked the earth around 2 million years ago. Rolf Quam, an assistant professor of anthropology at Binghamton University along with colleagues from around the globe, were able to reconstruct fossilized remains to determine the level of sensory perception these early species may have had.

The remains came from the two sites in South Africa and the team took a high tech approach. Using CT scans of the internal ear structures, the team created virtual computer models. Their results point to these hominids having hearing abilities similar to modern chimpanzees, but with some slight differences.
Humans have better hearing than any other primate and the ability we have to process wider frequencies is how humans developed language. That is why chimps, no matter how well trained, will not learn to speak.

"We know that the hearing patterns, or audiograms, in chimpanzees and humans are distinct because their hearing abilities have been measured in the laboratory in living subjects," said Quam. "So we were interested in finding out when this human-like hearing pattern first emerged during our evolutionary history."

The research on the hominin species from South Africa, followed previous research that Quam and his team had done on fossils recovered in the site Sima de Los Huesos, or Pit of the Bones in Spain. Those fossils are not as old as the ones in South Africa, but Quam’s research into them found that the Spanish hominins probably had the same hearing ability as living humans today have. Seeing that the older species from South Africa had not yet reached that point was a crucial piece of the evolutionary timeline.

Location mattered as well. Based on the information the team had on their diets and the resources available for food, the South African species likely dwelled on the savanna. Since sound does not travel as far in an open environment such as that, the team believes these primates had short range communication abilities.

Quam was quick to point out in an interview with Reuters that his research did not find that these early humans had actual language. "I want to be clear that we are not arguing that these early humans had language, which implies a symbolic content," Quam said. "Certainly they could communicate vocally. All primates do. But human language emerged during our evolutionary history at some time after the existence of these early humans." 

The team hopes to be able to compare their findings with the newly discovered species Homo naledi, which was uncovered in another dig site in South Africa. The study was published on Sept. 25 in the journal Science Advances. See the video below to learn more:
 
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
SEP 13, 2020
Neuroscience
Emotion-Color Associations are the Same Globally
SEP 13, 2020
Emotion-Color Associations are the Same Globally
Researchers from Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz in Germany have found that people, regardless of where they come ...
SEP 16, 2020
Neuroscience
Men and Women Have Different Circadian Rhythms
SEP 16, 2020
Men and Women Have Different Circadian Rhythms
From a meta-analysis, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have found that men and women tend to have differe ...
SEP 24, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
2-In-1: Stroke Scans Also Diagnose COVID
SEP 24, 2020
2-In-1: Stroke Scans Also Diagnose COVID
King’s College London researchers took a closer look at emergency room CT scans of patients suspected of having a ...
NOV 09, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
New Immunotherapy Shows Promise for MS
NOV 09, 2020
New Immunotherapy Shows Promise for MS
Researchers from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia are studying an immunotherapy that has shown early pro ...
NOV 24, 2020
Neuroscience
Could Memory Manipulation Treat Alcohol Addiction?
NOV 24, 2020
Could Memory Manipulation Treat Alcohol Addiction?
Researchers from Boston University have found that manipulating how fear-based memories are processed may modify addicti ...
DEC 01, 2020
Neuroscience
Shorter Reinforcement Delays Make Neurofeedback More Effective
DEC 01, 2020
Shorter Reinforcement Delays Make Neurofeedback More Effective
Researchers at Russia's Higher School of Economics (HSE) have found that reducing delay in neurofeedback (NFB) signi ...
Loading Comments...