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Ancient Hearing

September 28, 2015

Scientists re-create how our ancient ancestors heard their world.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Australopithecus_Africanus J.M. Salas CC BY-SA 3.0

What did the world sound like to Australopithecus Africanus? (Artist’s depiction by: J.M. Salas/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Re-creating ancient hearing. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

To your three-million-year-old ancestor, roaming the African savannah, this broadcast might have sounded more like this. University of Binghamton paleoanthropologist Rolf Quam reports in the journal Science Advances that our ancestors couldn’t hear high frequencies, but had a much better sensitivity than we do to frequencies around 3 kilohertz.

ROLF QUAM (University of Binghamton):

Where the early hominins hear better, they’re kind of like superhuman.

HIRSHON:

To make the comparisons, Quam scanned fossilized ear bones and made virtual reconstructions of how sound was transmitted through the ancient ear.

QUAM:

We’ve done something that nobody’s done before. We’ve figured out how these early humans heard the world.

HIRSHON:

Quam also found they had better hearing than chimpanzees, which may have helped as early humans moved to the savannah, where calls and vocalizations carried differently than among the trees. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.