Morphology, pathology, and the vertebral posture of the La Chapelle-aux-Saints Neandertal

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Publication Type: Journal Article
Authors: Haeusler, Martin; Trinkaus, Erik; Fornai, Cinzia; Müller, Jonas; Bonneau, Noémie; Boeni, Thomas; Frater, Nakita
Year of Publication: 2019
Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Pagination: 201820745
Date Published: 2019/02/20
Publication Language: eng

Fully upright and balanced posture is one of the hallmarks of humanity, and it has long been seen as present among all members of the genus Homo. However, recent considerations of Neandertal vertebrae have concluded that these late archaic humans, who were both behaviorally and phylogenetically close to ourselves, lacked fully developed spinal curvatures and must therefore have had precarious postures. Reassessment and virtual reconstruction of the La Chapelle-aux-Saints 1 Neandertal skeletal remains provides direct anatomical evidence that he, and by extension other Neandertals, possessed the usual human lower back and neck curvature (lordosis). It is therefore time to move beyond making Neandertals less human and focus on the subtle shifts in Late Pleistocene human biology and behavior.Although the early postural reconstructions of the Neandertals as incompletely erect were rejected half a century ago, recent studies of Neandertal vertebral remains have inferred a hypolordotic, flat lower back and spinal imbalance for them, including the La Chapelle-aux-Saints 1 skeleton. These studies form part of a persistent trend to view the Neandertals as less “human” than ourselves despite growing evidence for little if any differences in basic functional anatomy and behavioral capabilities. We have therefore reassessed the spinal posture of La Chapelle-aux-Saints 1 using a new pelvic reconstruction to infer lumbar lordosis, interarticulation of lower lumbar (L4-S1) and cervical (C4-T2) vertebrae, and consideration of his widespread age-related osteoarthritis. La Chapelle-aux-Saints 1 exhibits a pelvic incidence (and hence lumbar lordosis) similar to modern humans, articulation of lumbar and cervical vertebrae indicating pronounced lordosis, and Baastrup disease as a product of his advanced age, osteoarthritis, and lordosis. Our findings challenge the view of generally small spinal curvatures in Neandertals. Setting aside the developmentally abnormal Kebara 2 vertebral column, La Chapelle-aux-Saints 1 is joined by other Neandertals with sufficient vertebral remains in providing them with a fully upright (and human) axial posture.

Short Title: Proc Natl Acad Sci USA
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