All Ears! What Human Ancestors’ Hearing Was Like

Sep 28, 2015

Rolf Quam

By Laura Geggel

Human ancestors that lived about 2 million years ago had hearing abilities similar to those of chimpanzees, but their ears had some slight differences that made their hearing more humanlike, a new study finds.

The finding — based on virtual models of early hominin (the ancestors of modern humans), modern chimp and human ears — suggests that, unlike chimps, these now-extinct human ancestors had a remarkable sensitivity to high-frequency sounds. These types of sounds are used in modern-day human communication — including the sounds made by the letters “K,” “T,” “Th,” “F” and “S” — and could have helped hominins detect short-range vocal communication during their time, the researchers said.

The authors suggested that the ability to hear short-range communication would have favored the open savanna, adding evidence that early hominins once lived there.

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