This has been suspected since the 1989 discovery of a Neanderthal hyoid that looks just like a modern human's.

But now computer modelling of how it works has shown this bone was also used in a very similar way.

Writing in journal Plos One, scientists say its study is "highly suggestive" of complex speech in Neanderthals.

The hyoid bone is crucial for speaking as it supports the root of the tongue. In non-human primates, it is not placed in the right position to vocalise like humans.

An international team of researchers analysed a fossil Neanderthal throat bone using 3D x-ray imaging and mechanical modelling.

This model allowed the group to see how the hyoid behaved in relation to the other surrounding bones.