Speech in H. erectus

From: Glenn Morton (glennmorton@entouch.net)
Date: Sun Jun 29 2003 - 13:17:33 EDT

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    On Oct 1, 2001 a new skull of H. erectus was found at Sambungmacan, Java.
    This skull has an interesting basicranium which tends to negate arguments
    advanced by some who think archaic hominids couldn't speak.

    The article notes:
    “A Homo erectus calvarium [Sambungmacan 4 (Sm 4)] was recovered from
    Pleistocene sediments at Sambungmacan in central Java. Micro-computed
    tomography analysis shows a modern human-like cranial base flexion
    associated with a low platycephalic vault, implying that the evolution of
    human cranial globularity was independent of cranial base flexion.” Hisao
    Baba et al, “Homo erectus Calvarium from the Pleistocene of Java,” Science,
    299(2003):1384-1388, p. 1384

    A curved basicranium is necessary for good speech (not for speech itself)
    according to those who study this issue. Flat basicraniums have been cited
    as evidence against speech in Neanderthals.

    "Although some of the earlier sterotyped notions about
    Neanderthals now seem to be passe, a controversial idea has been
    introduced that may revive them, it has been claimed that
    Neanderthals could not speak very well. Philip Lieberman, Edmund
    S. Crelin, and Dennis H. Klatt (1972) have made measurements of
    the neck vertebrae and the base of the skull of the man of La
    Chapelle aux Saints and have concluded that Neanderthals were
    unable to pronounce a number of vowels and consonants that we can
    pronounce today. This does not mean that Neanderthals had no
    language, but Lieberman et al. believe that linguistic
    communication among Neanderthals was considerably slower and less
    efficeint than among ourselves.
    ?"Criticism of the findings of Lieberman and his
    associates has come from two articles in the American Journal of
    Physical Anthropology, in which the following points re made: (1)
    the brains of Neanderthals were at least as large as those of
    modern humans; (2) the Sylvian fissures of the brain, as seen in
    the endocranial cast of the skull of La Chapelle aux Saints,
    resemble those of modern humans, implying that speech was
    present, (3) modern adults who have features like those described
    by Lieberman et al., such as prognathism and flattening of the
    base of the skull, are quite able to speak complex modern
    languages; and (4) Lieberman and his associates have
    reconstructed the hyoid bone of the La Chapelle aux Saints
    individual in a position too high to permit swallowing, not
    taking into account the influence of upright posture and
    bipedalism on the position of the larnyx." ~ Victor Barnouw, An
    Introduction to Anthropology: Physical Anthropology and
    Archaeology, Vol. 1, (Homewood, Illinois: The Dorsey Press, 1982)
    p. 151

    Lieberman cited the flat basicranium of a diseased and damanges Neanderthal
    speciment as evidence for lack of language.

    "More recently, the La Chapelle-aux Saints specimen has
    figured prominently in a debate over whether Neandertals
    possessed the equivalent of modern spoken language. it was
    argued that because the cranium had an unusually flat base, the
    larynx would have sat too high in the throat of Neandertals for
    them to pronounce the vowels a, i, and u. The base of a modern
    human cranium, once past infancy, becomes flexed, which lowers
    the larynx in the throat and permits a broader range of sounds to
    pass from the pharynx. A more recent reconstruction of the
    cranium of the La Chapell-aux-Saints individual resulted in
    greater base flexion than Boule allowed in his reconstruction,
    but it still appears to have a flatter cranial base than in
    modern humans. Exactly what conclusion can be drawn from this
    feature remains unclear, but perhaps it is time to refrain from
    reading further Neandertal generalities into the diseased and
    damaged specimen from La Chapelle-aux-Saints." ~ Donald Johanson
    and Blake Edgar, From Lucy to Language, (New York: Simon and
    Schuster, 1997), p. 224

    There is one other interesting thing about this skull. It was found only
    100 m from where Sm 3 was found, a Homo erectus skull which dates to only
    30-50,000 years old and Sm3 also seems to have the physiology for speech.

    "The Sm 3 petalial pattern, while not distinct, suggests a
    torque pattern usually found in right-handed modern humans.
    Such a pattern corroborates hemispheric dominance in H.
    erectus, albeit this is speculative. In addition, Sm 3
    possesses a pronounced Broca's cap that is highly left over
    right asymmetric. Although the right frontal lobe is broader
    at the point of Broca's cap, the left cap is larger overall.
    In addition, as the area corresponding to the third inferior
    frontal convolution travels toward the Sylvan fissure there
    is a noticeable bulge anterior to the frontal branch of the
    middle meningeal artery, continuing vertically along the
    coronal suture. While this feature cannot be assigned a
    Brodmann's map area; the presence of this feature is
    provocative for the inference of an enhancement of speech
    areas. Holloway noted the presence of Broca's cap in
    pongids, yet the presence of the feature is inconsistent,
    unlike Homo. Tobias claims that this indicates that there was
    the possibility for speech in H. habilis. While this evidence
    is merely corroborative, it does strongly suggest that some
    form of speech was established in later H. erectus. The
    degree of asymmetry seen in associative speech features in
    Sm3 is corroborative, albeit not causally indicative, of the
    idea that Sm 3 and other Indonesian H. erectus had developed
    a level of speech ability not seen in previous hominin
    ?"The remarkable degree of completeness of the Sm 3
    endocast provides important information to the understanding
    of Indonesian H. erectus. The unique features of this
    endocast such as a short, high vaulted, globular endocranium,
    along with left-right asymmetries, indicate that the cerebral
    evolution of later hominins was more complex than previously
    thought. In addition, the presence of a well-developed,
    asymmetric Broca's cap and left-right hemispheric asymmetry
    point to a degree of possible cognitive specialization
    approaching later hominins." Douglas C. Broadfield, Ralph L.
    Holloway, Kenneth Mowbray, Adam Silvers, Michael S. Yuan, and
    Samuel Marquez," Endocast of Sambungmacan 3 (Sm 3): A New
    Homo erectus From Indonesia," The Anatomical Record,
    262(2001):369-379, p. 377

    As for the late date of these erectus's here is what the dating specialists
    "Hominid fossils from Njandong and Sambungmacan, Central Java,
    are considered the most morphologically advanced representatives
     of Homo erectus. Electron spin resonance (ESR) and mass
    spectrometric U-series dating of fossil bovid teeth collected
    from the hominid-bearing levels at these sites gave mean ages of
    27+/- 2 to 53.3+/-4 thousand years ago; the range in ages
    reflects uncertainties in uranium migration histories. These
    ages are 20,000 to 400,000 years younger than previous age
    estimates for these hominids and indicate that H. erectus may
    have survived on Java at least 250,000 years longer than on the
    Asian mainland, and perhaps 1 million years longer than in
    Africa. The new ages raise the possibility that H. erectus
    overlapped in time with anatomically modern humans (H. sapiens)
    in Southeast Asia." ~ C. C. Swisher III, W. J. Rink. S. C. Anton,
    H. P. Schwarcz, G. H. Curtis, A. Suprijo, and Widiasmoro,
    "Laterst Homo erectus of Java: Potential Contemporaneity with
    Homo sapiens in Southeast Asia," Science, 274(Dec 13, 1996), p.
    1870-1874, p. 1870

    This presents a Hobson's choice to the Christian apologist who denies
    interbreeding with archaics. If there was no interbreeding and these
    erectus is a different species, then we have to account for two species
    which have language--a characteristic of mankind and humanity. If they and
    we are the same species, then it is clear that humanity must be extended to
    the H. erectus and they lived from 2 million years on, meaning humanity goes
    back much farther than we desire. Secondly, if language existed among the
    erectus, then it wasn't created when the supposed speciation event took
    place in which anatomically modern humans were created.

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