Neanderthals weren’t as short as you thought they were…

Body height, body mass and surface area of the Neanderthals.

Helmuth H.Trent University, Peterborough, ON, Canada.

Body size, expressed as height or stature, is an important determinant of many other biological variables. Thus, it is surprising that many textbooks portray a wrong picture of Neanderthal height as being “very short” or “just over 5 feet”. Based on 45 long bones from maximally 14 males and 7 females, Neanderthals’ height averages between 164 and 168 (males) resp. 152 to 156 cm (females). This height is indeed 12-14 cm lower than the height of post-WWII Europeans, but compared to Europeans some 20,000 or 100 years ago, it is practically identical or even slightly higher. Considering the body build of Neanderthals, new body weight estimates show that they are only slightly above the cm/weight or the Body Mass Index of modern Americans or Canadians. The calculation of the relative surface area (approximately 240-244 cm2/kg) is very low and supports earlier findings of a morphological and anatomical thermoregulatory adaptation to a cold climate in the Neanderthals.

A recent study by Trent Holliday comparing early and late Upper Paleolithic skeletal materials provided an average male height of 170 centimeters (early) and 168 centimeters (late), and average female height of 157.6 cm (early) and 158.4 (late). However, Formicola and Giannecchini’s data revealed that “EUP males are much taller (176.2 cm) and LUP shorter (165.6 cm), with an average difference of 10.6 cm. Similarly EUP females (162.9 cm) largely exceed LUP females (153.5 cm).”

Call me mad, but Neanderthal height seem to be pretty similar to more modern human heights under similar conditions (166cm vs 168/165.6cm). The falling height in more recent humans is probably an indicator of an adjustment to a less tropical limb length. Short and stocky retains heat better. This would make Neanderthals less than one inch different to modern Europeans from the late paleolithic.

One response to “Neanderthals weren’t as short as you thought they were…

  1. Yeah.. I love how Neanderthals are always described as short relative to *modern humans*. (I’m assuming modern humans from some developed Western nation – not, say, natives of Greenland or such.) What’s relevant is how they compared height-wise to other hominids of the same period. Duh.

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