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Pelvic angle to Neanderthal dispute.


Bruce Bower reports from Kansas City, Mo., at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists

Pelvic angle to Neanderthal dispute

Debate over the evolutionary importance of the Neanderthals, who lived from about 125,000 to 30,000 years ago, has intensified over the past year. The traditional view holds that modern humans are closely related to the Neanderthals, probably as direct descendants. But recent genetic studies suggest that anatomically modern humans emerged from Africa around 200,000 years ago, spread throughout the world, and replaced the Neanderthals. More evidence that the two groups took separate evolutionary paths came with the report that modern humans inhabited the Qafzeh cave site in Israel 90,000 years ago, long before Neanderthals are known to have been in that region (SN: 2/27/88, p.138).

The argument for the replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans also gets a boost from an examination of the only complete Neanderthal pelvis, recently discovered by Yoel Rak and his colleagues at Tel-Aviv University in Israel. The pelvis, says Rak, is part of a skeleton found in a burial site at the 60,000-year-old Kebara cave not far from Qafzeh and is fundamentally different from its counterpart in the modern human skeleton. The Neanderthal's pelvic outlet is distinctively shaped, and the sockets for the thighbones are pushed back compared with those of modern humans.

While this weakens the case for a close evolutionary relationship in which Neanderthals and modern humans interbred and exchanged genes, Rak says the new specimen does not support the notion, based on the analysis of previously discovered partial pelvises, that the Neanderthal pelvic outlet was bigger than that of modern humans. Such observations led to speculation that Neanderthals had longer gestation periods and bigger babies than modern humans.

"The two different pelvic configurations have to do with posture and locomotion, not gynecology," says Rak.

He adds that anatomically separate Neanderthal populations probably lived throughout Europe, the Middle East and other areas. The "classic" Neanderthal face, marked by heavy brow ridges, receding cheekbones, large nose and protruding jaw, is most evident in western European fossils, says Rak. In Israel and Asia, Neanderthal skulls have a more "confused," modern-looking set of features.

If regional Neanderthal populations ever crossed paths, holds Rak, "I deeply believe they would have stayed separate and not interbred."

But other anthropologists at the meeting said that Near and Middle Eastern variations in Neanderthal facial anatomy point to some genetic mixing with modern humans at the crossroads between Africa and Europe.
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Title Annotation:dispute over evolutionary importance of Neanderthal man
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Apr 9, 1988
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