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How did the cavement hear?

Ancient Audiology: How did the cavemen hear?

Published 15-07-2019
Last Updated 18-07-2019

Who would win a hearing competition between a modern-day human and a caveman and why is this important? Read on to find out what researchers have learned over the course of human evolution.
The minds over at Binghamton University examined the fossilized skulls of humanity's first listeners and found distinct differences in the formation of the ear. They had noticeable contrasts in the middle and outer ear, including a smaller tympanic membrane and wider auditory canals.With the help of some computer imaging (score 2 points to team modern-day for computers), they were able to digitally recreate the caveman's ear to test its actual hearing capacity.

Test results showed that cavemen had the edge compared to chimpanzees and heard different frequencies compared to present-day humans. The cavemen's ears are more sensitive to lower frequencies. As you move up in sound frequencies, present-day human ears showed improved results.

In other words, cavemen may not have been able to hear high-pitched ambulance sirens, while we may not have survived without hearing lower pitched grunts from dangerous animals.

Why is this important?

As the old saying goes, "You have to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going." The benefit of understanding the evolutionary patterns and characteristic differences, anatomically or otherwise, allows us to better understand some of the behavioral and social patterns we see today.

Researchers at Binghamton deduced from their results that our hearing development from then to now can help explain our use of short-range vocal communication. 

So for now, on the subject of Caveman v. Modern-Day hearing ability, we'll just call it a tie.