Neandertal Advance: First Fully Jointed Skeleton Built

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"Before we began, we wondered why it hadn't been done before. But as we ran into many of the complications involved in reconstructing specific bones using two, sometimes three distinct individuals, we realized just how challenging a reconstruction of this magnitude can be," Maley said.

Physically Powerful

When scientists first began to study Neandertal skeletal biology some 100 years ago, they described the Neandertals as slouched, bent-kneed bipeds with primitive mental capacity.

Later studies showed that much of the morphology, or form and structure, of the Neandertals was similar to that of modern humans.

The reconstructed skeleton is 5.4 feet (164 centimeters) tall. The height, though, might have been slightly underestimated, due partly to the use of bone casts from a potentially shorter individual.

"The reconstruction effectively conveys the ruggedness of the Neandertal skeleton and reminds us how physically powerful they must have been," said Wesley Niewoehner, an anthropologist at California State University in San Bernardino.

While researchers in the past have hypothesized that the Neandertal's rib cage was barrel-shaped, the reconstruction suggests more of a conical, bell-shaped trunk.

Fred Smith, the chair of the Department of Anthropology at Loyola University in Chicago, Illinois, said the reconstruction "provides a thought-provoking picture of a Neandertal skeleton [that] is very real and exciting."

But he cautions against drawing any conclusions about the Neandertals' stature and rib cage based on just this skeleton.

"[These] characters … may be as much an artifact of the composite reconstruction as biological reality," he said.

"In any event, even if the stature is correct, it is just one individual and really should not be used to alter our picture of Neandertal stature."

The reconstructed skeleton is currently on display at the Dolan DNA Learning Center in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. It will eventually go on permanent display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

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