A Preliminary Approach to the Neanderthal Speciation by Distance Hypothesis: A View from the Shoulder Complex

  • Jean-Luc VoisinEmail author
Part of the Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology book series (VERT)


Neanderthal extinction is still under debate and there are two main schools of thought on this topic: (1) Neanderthals and modern humans are two distinct species and (2) Neanderthals and modern humans are a single species, with or without two subspecies. Recently, a new hypothesis has risen up, which takes into account arguments from both schools: the Neanderthal speciation by distance (i.e. Voisin 2006c). This hypothesis is based on a morphological cline from East to West in Neanderthal populations. In other words, the farther those populations lived to the west, the more they displayed pronounced Neanderthal characters. The aim of this study is to test the speciation by distance hypothesis in Neanderthal in regard to the shoulder complex. The shoulder girdle displays a morphological cline from East to West, but only for architectural characters and not for functional ones. This cline could be better explained by a result of a speciation by distance induced by genetic drift than by a different response to any physical activities. This study tends to confirm the speciation by distance model for Neanderthal, even if more studies are needed to confirm it firmly.


Geographical cline Europe Near East Shoulder girdle Clavicle Scapula 



I would first like to thank Silvana Condemi for her proposal to participate in the “150 years of Neanderthal discoveries – Early Europeans – continuity & discontinuity.” I would also thank Professors Dominique Grimaud-Hervé, Jakov Radovcić, and Philippe Menecier, who allowed me to work, respectively, on the collections of the Institut de Paléontologie Humaine (Paris, France), the Croatian Natural History Museum (Zagreb, Croatia), and the Département des collections du Musée de l’Homme (Paris, France).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.USM 103, UMR 7194, Institut de Paléontologie HumaineParisFrance
  2. 2.Faculté de MédecineUMR 6578, Université de la Méditerranée Aix-Marseille 2Marseille Cedex 15France

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