New Research By Swiss Scientists Has Shown That Neanderthals Walked Upright Just Like Modern Humans

Neanderthal Homo adult male, based on 40000 year-old remains found at Spy in Belgium.
IR Stone / Shutterstock

A team of Swiss scientists from the University of Zurich have published a new study which demonstrates that Neanderthals once walked upright, just like modern humans today. This is contrary to the image often depicted of Neanderthals, one which frequently shows them walking with their bodies hunched over.

According to Science Daily, these prehistoric people did not have the poor posture that many assume, which is the conclusion that scientists reached after analyzing the spine and pelvis of Neanderthal remains that were discovered in La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France.

While the earliest reconstruction of pertinent remains at the beginning of the 2oth century showed Neanderthals as not walking fully upright, this was found to be due — in part — to the fact that the remains that this reconstruction were based upon actually belonged to an elderly male, rather than a Neanderthal in the prime of its life when they died.

However, after the 1950s, scientists were all too keenly aware that Neanderthals did not walk hunched over. Yet, as late, many depictions of them have reverted back to how they were drawn at the dawn of the 20th century — with Neanderthals being shown once again as not walking quite upright, and as having poor posture.

As Martin Haeusler, a UZH specialist in evolutionary medicine, concluded, “Focusing on the differences is back in fashion.”

However, scientists led by Haeusler and Erik Trinkaus — from Washington University in St. Louis — have created a virtual reconstruction of the Neanderthal skeleton found in France. This construction shows that Neanderthals also had a curved lumbar region and neck, just like modern humans, with a well-defined curvature.

After reconstructing the cervical vertebrae and lumbar region and placing these together, the spinal curvature of the Neanderthal skeleton was obvious to scientists. In fact, by just observing the wear and tear marks around the hip joints of this skeleton, it was clearly demonstrated that Neanderthals were walking upright — just like modern humans.

As The International Business Times reports, Haeusler explained that by studying the hip joint and pelvis position, scientists understand that the average Neanderthal — at least when not elderly — was fully capable of assuming an upright position when walking.

“The stress on the hip joint and the position of the pelvis is no different than ours. On the whole, there is hardly any evidence that would point to Neanderthals having fundamentally different anatomy. Now is the time to recognize the basic similarities between Neanderthals and modern humans and to switch the focus to the subtle biological and behavioral changes that occurred in humans in the late Pleistocene.”

The new study by Swiss scientists which demonstrates that Neanderthals walked upright like modern humans has been published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.