, Volume 17, Issue 2 Supplement, pp 327-330
Date: 27 Feb 2008

The lumbar spine in Neanderthals shows natural kyphosis

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Abstract

Nowadays, lumbar spondylosis is one of the most frequent causes of lower back pain. In order to improve our understanding of the lumbar spine anatomy and functionality over time, we compared the lumbar vertebrae of Neanderthals with those of anatomically modern humans. The fossil record reports on only two Neanderthal skeletons (i.e., Kebara 2 and Shanidar 3, both predating the appearance of modern humans) with full preservation of the entire lumbar spine. Examination of these early hominids showed that they display natural lumbar kyphosis, with only mild degenerative changes of the lumbar spine (ages at death: 30–35 years, Kebara 2; and 35–50 years, Shanidar 3). This finding is highly unexpected since Neanderthals are known to have had extraordinary physical activity due to demanding living conditions. The adult lumbar spines discussed here therefore show no correlation between high physical activity and degenerative spine disease as known from recent times. We speculate that both the kyphosis itself and the massive and heavily muscled skeleton of Neanderthals are causative for the minimal bone degeneration. We conclude that a kyphotic lumbar spine is the natural anatomy in these two Neanderthal individuals. Future research will reveal if this holds true for the entire Neanderthal species.