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Half of the Neanderthals suffered under the surfer's ear!



A recent study suggests that Neanderthals often suffered from "swimmer's ear" or "surfer's ear" – dense bony growths that protrude into the ear canal. This is usually caused by habitual exposure to cold or cold air, and scientists believe its distribution shows that Neanderthals like to fish and collect marine resources.

The Prevalence of the Swimmer's Ear on Neanderthals and Other Ancient Humans

The article on the study in PLOS ONE explains that the swimmer's ear, which is technically referred to as external auditory exostosis (EAE), has been heretofore In the remains of modern Pleistocene humans and Neanderthals, no one has really studied them.

Erik Trinkaus of Washington University and his French colleagues on the report, Mathilde Samsel and Sébastien Villotte of the University of Bordeaux, came to their conclusion after examining the well-preserved ear canals in the remains of 77 elderly people, including Neanderthals and early modern people from the mid to late Pleistocene epoch of Western Europe.

While the frequency of pathology in modern humans remains similar, they found that the disease was exceptionally common among Neanderthals. Nearly half of the 23 Neanderthals studied showed mild to severe exostoses ̵

1; at least twice the frequency seen in almost every other population studied.

  Occurrence of EAE (

occurrence of EAE ("swimmer's ear") in humans of the early modern period (above) and Neanderthals (below). ( Trinkaus, Samsel & Villotte ) [19659002] What do Neanderthals intend to do when they are not engaged in water sports?

Today, EAE is usually associated with water sports and water sports such as scuba diving, surfing, and kayaking, as Trinkaus and colleagues note in their work, "Cold water is in the context of Chilled water sports or foraging are the most commonly observed stimulants. "

And the researchers have opted for this second explanation – the use of marine resources, writing their findings" indicating a higher frequency of exploitation of aquatic resources by both groups of humans, as indicated by the archaeological records, especially the foraging skills and resource diversity of the Neanderthals strengthened. "

As Science Daily notes, however, they also point out that" the geographic distribution of exostoses observed in Neanderthals has no clear correlation with proximity to ancient water sources, nor does it result in a cooler climate than expected. The authors suggest that this high rate of exostosis was likely to involve several factors, including likely environmental factors and genetic predispositions.

  The skull of La Chapelle-aux-Saints Neanderthal with external auditory exostoses (

) La Chapelle-aux-Saints Neanderthal skull, in which the external auditory canals ("swimmer ear proliferations") in the left channel are indicated. Erik Trinkaus

As it seems with many In terms of anthropology, we see here a mixture of nature and genetics that leads to a result, and researchers recognize this in their work :

"It is also likely that the high level of external auditory exostosis in Neanderthals [..] is due in part to the exploitation of aquatic resources, but the Neanderthal frequency is only at the upper limit of recent human values I have air-conditioned access to those experiencing cold-water marmots, so it is likely that, as with Eastern European, later archaic humans, a variety of factors were involved in the abundance of external auditory exostosis. "

Another prehistoric case of surfer ear

Another report on the prevalence of surfer ear appeared this past December In the meantime, researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute found that the search for marine treasures in the form of precious pearls also pre-Columbian divers under EAE suffered.

Nicole Smith-Guzmán, researcher on the find, said, "We find it more likely that diving in the cold waters of the Gulf caused these surfer tube cases, silvery mother-of-pearl ornaments and orange and purple ornaments of two large ones." thorny oysters of the genus spondylus were frequently found in burials and were an important commodity in the region. Some of these shells were washed ashore, but at the time Vasco Nuñez de Balboa and other Spanish explorers arrived. Their chronicles suggest that experienced divers have been trained from childhood to dive down to four depths to find pearl oysters of desirable size. "

  Catching pearls, Bern Physiologus (manuscript from the 9th century) pearl diving). (Public Domain)

Catching of pearls, Bern Physiologus (manuscript from the 9th century, which describes the pearl diving). Public Domain )

One wonders if the EAE prevalence is related to natural factors, maybe the Neanderthals had more to do than just fishing … but either way, like Trinkaus Has done, Neanderthals were certainly more skilled than many people have credited them. He said his study:

"underpins a number of arguments and data sources to argue for a degree of adaptability, flexibility, and ability of Neanderthals that was rejected by some experts. You have to be able to have a certain minimum of technology, and you have to know when the fish are going to go up the rivers or along the coast – a rather laborious process.

Other Neanderthal Health Problems

Of course, EAE is not the only health problem that Neanderthals have had to deal with. Some previous studies have even found that some of today's health problems were shared by Neanderthals, who mated with Homo sapiens .

For example, a 2016 study suggests that Neanderthal genes play a role in the presence of all types of health problems – immunological, dermatological, neurological, psychiatric and reproductive diseases. It has also been discovered that the Neanderthal genes that help clot in modern humans also make us more susceptible to allergies.

  Neanderthal genes have been associated with many health problems in modern humans. This picture shows some of them. (Deborah Brewington / Vanderbilt University)

Neanderthal genes have been associated with many health problems in modern humans. This picture shows some of them. Deborah Brewington / Vanderbilt University )

Top Image: Neanderthals often suffer from ear problems. Source: Kovalenko I / Adobe Stock

By Alicia McDermott


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