Why Did Neanderthals Have Such Big Noses?

Why Did Neanderthals Have Such Big Noses?

For more than 100 years, scientists studying Neanderthals, humanity's closest known relative, have pondered one question: Why did they have such massive noses?

This isn't just a question of beauty. Scientists posited that the big snouts could hold a clue to the world these primitive hominids lived in, according to LiveScience.

One theory was that Neanderthals lived in bitterly cold conditions during the Ice Age and the big nose helped warm the air as they breathed.

New research, however, suggests that idea may be all wrong.

Todd Rae, senior lecturer at Roehampton University in the United Kingdom, studied a range of Neanderthal skulls as well as those from humans living hundreds of years ago, according to PhysOrg.com.

In a paper published in the Journal of Human Evolution, Rae showed that the Neanderthal sinus doesn't match the size of the nose -- meaning it probably didn't act as a warming unit.

"Our findings show that their sinuses were no larger, relative to the skull size, than in Homo sapiens who lived in temperate climates," Rae wrote, according to The Telegraph. "It suggests that Neanderthals evolved in much warmer temperatures before moving into Europe and then they moved south to avoid the glaciers."

Neanderthals lived in Europe and parts of Asia until about 28,000 years ago. They shared a common ancestor with Homo sapiens, though the Neanderthal branch of the family tree left Africa sooner, according to New Scientist.

The first Neanderthal remains were found in Germany in 1856. Studies showed that they were short and stocky, with large faces and barrel chests.

They shared more than 99 percent of their DNA with humans, making them our closest known relatives, studies say.

Rae's research now raises questions about what we do know about these ancient ancestors.

If the big schnoz isn't designed for cold-weather living, it suggests that Neanderthals may not have been the hardy Ice Age hunters we previously thought.

"It raises other possibilities for what caused Neanderthals to eventually die out," Rae said, according to The Telegraph.

"If they were restricted to living in warmer refuges at the height of the last ice age, it is possible their populations became too isolated and small to survive."

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