This Is What Neanderthals' Voices Actually Sounded Like

Neanderthals, per Britannica, appeared around 200,000 years ago (potentially a lot earlier). We know relatively little about the lives they led. Popular culture has given a vivid impression of how they spoke, though: a harsh, deep series of grunts and "ugs," which is often portrayed as the way all of our ancestors spoke. While there's really no telling for sure, modern scientific research seems to suggest that their voices were anything but deep and bestial.

As Anthropology Magazine Sapiens stated in 2019, sophisticated speech may not be unique to Homo sapiens. Neanderthal remains have confirmed that the species boasted the hyoid, a tiny and very fragile bone that is found in the region of the throat and jaw in humans. Just one such bone has been found intact in the remains of a Neanderthal, the report continues, but it was nonetheless a monumental discovery. The hyoid's presence in Neanderthals lends weight to the theory that they may have been capable of true speech, as it is a bone that supports a sophisticated network of muscles and other tissues that are crucial to a dextrous tongue and throat.

A guttural grunt or a high-pitched howl?

Anthropology Magazine Sapiens goes on to explain that University College London's Sandra Martelli, a biological and anatomical researcher, performed simulations to see how our ancient relatives' speech may have sounded. Based on scans of modern human anatomy and the configuration of a Neanderthal skull, Martelli, who noted that our voice boxes are a good deal smaller than a Neanderthal's, approximated that these prehistoric peoples could have produced some basic sounds, very similarly to those of Homo sapiens. Neanderthals also would have been capable of producing vocal sounds that would have been very difficult for modern humans to replicate.

Per The Vintage News, a lot is still unclear, as the positioning of the hyoid and the way it held the tongue would have been a big factor in how and what the Neanderthals were capable of speaking. Perhaps the most surprising thing, though, is that a theory has arisen suggesting that they would have had voices with unexpectedly high pitches. 

On discovering the first complete Neanderthal skeleton ever found, according to Mental Floss, scientists presented various models of a mocked-up Neanderthal's throat to Patsy Rodenberg, voice coach and all-around expert in everything pertaining to human speech. She suggested on BBC television's Neanderthal: The Rebirth (via YouTube) that the generous chest and naval cavities of the Neanderthals, along with their mighty skulls, could have given them very loud, high-pitched and nasal voices.