Common infection responsible for Neanderthals' extinction? New study reveals so
The extinction of the Neanderthals has long been an unsolved mystery for anthropologists. However, a recent study has added a new twist to the ongoing speculation. The study, published in the journal The Anatomical Record, claims that the Neanderthals, a now-extinct relative of the modern-day human, Homo Sapiens, might have been killed off by an infection common among children. Here are more details.
Neanderthals were vulnerable to Eustachian tube infection
The study presents the first anatomical reconstruction of the Neanderthal cartilaginous Eustachian tube (CET), a canal that connects the middle-ear to the nasopharynx. The CET is responsible for middle-ear aeration and pressure equilibration. According to the findings of the study, the structure of the CET may have itself exposed the Neanderthals to higher rates of middle-ear inflammatory diseases (otitis media, OM).
Neanderthals had infant-like CETs, choanal orientation, study finds
After comparing the Neanderthal CET morphology to that of a modern-day human, it was observed that Neanderthals had infant-like horizontal CET and choanal orientation. The horizontal CET is prone to retaining harmful bacteria, unlike the angled CET in adult humans, which left them vulnerable to infections such as pneumonia or meningitis. The Neanderthals also had primitively tall and narrow nasopharynges.
"If you're constantly ill, you wouldn't be as fit"
Co-investigator and Downstate Health Sciences University Associate Professor Samuel Márquez, Ph.D., said, "It's not just the threat of dying of an infection." Márquez added, "If you're constantly ill, you wouldn't be as fit and effective in competing with your Homo Sapien cousins for food and other resources. In a world of survival of the fittest, it's no wonder that modern man, not Neanderthal, prevailed."
"Study's strength lies in reconstructing cartilaginous Eustachian tube"
Further, Richard Rosenfeld, Chairman of Otolaryngology at SUNY Downstate, also praised the study, saying, "The strength of the study lies in reconstructing the cartilaginous Eustachian tube." Rosenfeld, who is a world-renowned authority on children's health, added, "This new and previously unknown understanding of middle ear function in Neanderthal is what allows us to make new inferences regarding the impact on their health and fitness."
Neanderthals existed 4,50,000yrs ago, started going extinct as humans emerged
The Neanderthals were a distinct human species called the Homo Neanderthalensis. They are said to have populated the Eurasian continent from Siberia (largely covering Russia) in the east to Iberia in the west (modern-day Spain and Portugal). The Neanderthals existed somewhere around 4,50,000 years ago, however, started to go extinct as humans emerged and settled in Eurasia some 60,000 years ago.