Neanderthals lived over 130,000 years ago, and at the same time, Earth was in the throes of its last ice age (or "glacial period"). Many an archaeologist has thought the cold air explained their extra-large noses. But many an archaeologist has just been proven wrong.
Our noses aren't just scent detectors and decorative places to hang jewelry—they heat and humidify air before it passes into our lungs. The Neanderthals' bulbous noses have long been considered an evolutionary adaptation, to help them survive extremely cold air.
But according to new research gathered with 3-D scans and X-rays of Neanderthal skulls, although their noses were larger, Neanderthal sinuses were the same size as ours.
The Telegraph writes:
Dr Todd Rae, an evolutionary anthropologist at Roehampton University in London, said ...."Our findings show that their sinuses were no larger, relative to the skull size, than in Homo sapiens who lived in temperate climates. It suggests that Neanderthals evolved in much warmer temperatures before moving into Europe and then they moved south to avoid the glaciers.
Neanderthals died out 30,000 years ago, around the same time Homo sapiens evolved. Although Neanderthals were ultimately displaced by Homo sapiens, genetic markers prove that we co-existed for 1,000 years: 1 percent to 4 percent of the Eurasian genome contains Neanderthal genes. (Homo sapiens and Neanderthal are thought to have bred after Homo sapiens left Africa, but before Asian and European genes diverged.)
Despite this minuscule connection, we would recognize some of their behavior as human; they buried their dead, they cared for the sick and elderly, they had a diet of both meat and vegetables.
Although Neanderthals' large noses didn't give them an advantage in the cold, this particular physical characteristic could still be an evolutionary advantage ... if Neanderthal women found it attractive, that is.