Did Neanderthals speak with a high-pitched voice?

Neanderthals had different bodies than we do. In general, they were stockier and shorter, for instance. And there were other physical differences, as well. It's hard to say what these differences meant in practice but it's fun to speculate. You could build up a pretty good about how those short, study bodies might have helped Neanderthals be better adapted to cold. Or, you could look at the shape of a male Neanderthal's voice box, and think about how that shape might affect the sounds that came out.

So that's what this video is about. I have no idea how widely accepted "high pitched voice theory" is. I couldn't find a lot of references to it outside of the BBC special this clip comes from. Here's what the BBC says:

Professor Bob Franciscus, from Iowa University, is part of a multi-national group attempting to do just that. By making scans of modern humans, he saw how the soft tissue of the vocal tracts depends on the position of the hyoid bone and the anchoring sites on the skull. Computer predictions were then be made to determine the shape of the modern human vocal tract from bone data alone. The same equations were then used with data from a Neanderthal skull to predict the shape of a Neanderthal vocal tract.

The Neanderthal vocal tract seems to have been shorter and wider than a modern male human's, closer to that found today in modern human females. It's possible, then, that Neanderthal males had higher pitched voices than we might have expected. Together with a big chest, mouth, and huge nasal cavity, a big, harsh, high, sound might have resulted. But, crucially, the anatomy of the vocal tract is close enough to that of modern humans to indicate that anatomically there was no reason why Neanderthal could not have produced the complex range of sounds needed for speech.

As long as you understand that context, that this isn't necessarily a given that Neanderthals spoke in high-pitched voices, I think you should see this video. Because the results of this theory are damned hilarious.

Via misspepper on Submitterator!

Video Link


    1.  Interesting hypothesis, but Neanderthal genes are mostly mixed in with people of European rather than African descent. A group related to Neanderthals mixed in with what became Melanesians and Australian Aborigines, but that’s even farther from Africa.

      Tyson would seem to be a one off.

  1. What, they didn’t have any Pythons available for this demonstration?

    Also, adding snow to this video just made it delightful.

    1. …. Actually, not only is the video six years old, I think the attempt to demonstrate feels about as scientific as something cooked up by a six-year-old. Concatenated speculations and a dubious attempt to implement them add up to going so far out on the limb that it breaks off.

      (“Loud, very loud, and…” seems highly implausible, for example. Is there any mammal which is incapable of vocalizing quietly?)

  2. Seriously, Boing Boing owes me a new keyboard, there’s coffee over everything. That is without the doubt the funniest thing I have seen in weeks. Can they really be that oblivious? Can that really be completely unintentional? Oh please, please God, let it be true.


  3. This is an interesting coincidence: one of the commonly-reported experiences of folks claiming to see Bigfoot is hearing very resonant, high-pitched shrieks in the vicinity of the encounter. Oooh.. tingles..

  4. There are 15 known/recognized species of humans, most people are afraid to think otherwise. 

    Genus: Homo~
    Species: 15

    Of the 15, I think it’s Homo floresiensis,  or “Hobbit” , who may have had high voices.

  5. They claim that many “non-african” races have Neanderthal genes. I wonder how on earth did they extract “neanderthal genes” from frigging fossils when they can’t find enough DNA in stuff that is only a few centuries old?

    1. If you “wonder” that, why don’t you look it up on the internet? There are plenty of articles in popular science journals that will explain this for you. 

  6. While I find the video hilarious, I much prefer the theory of Michael Corballis that Neanderthals used a form of sign language for communication.

  7. So, they think Neanderthals were primitive and uncultured and therefore try to show that they sounded primitive and uncultured by means of a couple of wild guesses? No bias there, not at all. Very scientific.

    1. It looked to me like they tried to replicate the sounds that would come from an animal with that larynx, chest and general upper body structure.

      1. The fact that they thought they could achieve this with the test subject in question should tell you how valid their assumptions are. Apparently the Neanderthal’s physical configuration isn’t required for that.

  8. Would probably have made more sense to get a sound technician to manipulate a voice recording, rather then have some human who lacks the correct biology to emulate it wich makes it sound hilariouse and unscientific.

    1. So scientists who make you laugh are unscientific? Only the serious types are to be trusted? I don’t think I agree with you, at all!

  9. It’s a clip from a video meant for public consumption.  This is a demonstration, although not scientific it’s meant to get the point across of how they might sound.

    Google “Neanderthal” and “larynx” or “speech” and there’s quite a bit of information on this.

    Here’s a couple:



    *edit* removed redundant CNN link

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