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Neanderthal Legs

November 7, 2011

Scientists have figured out how Neanderthals got by with short legs.



Why short shins suited Neanderthals.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Anthropologists have long been fascinated by differences between Neanderthals and modern humans.  For example, Neanderthals had shorter legs.  Past studies suggested that would be a big disadvantage in walking – they’d spend a lot more effort to cover the same distance as a modern human.   But while that’s true on level ground, Johns Hopkins University biological anthropologist Ryan Higgins and his colleagues have now shown that short shins, in particular, actually help you climb steep mountainous terrain – where Neanderthals tended to live.

RYAN HIGGINS (Johns Hopkins University):

And it’s that shorter shin length that allows them to be just as efficient as modern humans on sloped terrain, despite their shorter overall leg length.

The findings help explain differences in other animals’ body types – for example, mountain goats and sheep have shorter lower legs than flat-terrain species.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.