Noses didn’t need cold to evolve

From Milwaukee, at a joint meeting of the Paleoanthropology Society and American Association of Physical Anthropologists

Fossil evidence that Neandertals possessed exceptionally large, broad noses has often been explained as an evolutionary response to life in cold, dry locales. An expansive schnoz might have warmed incoming cold air or expelled body heat during hunting and other strenuous activities.

However, new data indicate that climate played no role in shaping the Neandertal nose. Marc R. Meyer of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and his coworkers found similarly sized nasal passages in a set of 10 Neandertal skulls, some from Mediterranean and Middle Eastern sites that were warm and humid and others from frigid European sites.

Moreover, big, broad noses appear just as often in people from either warm or cold climates, Meyer notes. His team measured nasal dimensions in 460 modern human skulls representing individuals from throughout the world.

Noses don’t evolve independently of other facial structures, Meyer argues. A large Neandertal upper jaw laid the anatomical groundwork for a broad nose, he proposes. Citing measurements of Neandertal and modern skulls, Meyer and his colleagues find that the wider the upper jaw, the larger the nasal cavity.

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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