A common pathology in people who practice water sports is exostosis, an ailment that is located in the outer ear and is caused by continued exposure to water and wind. An analysis of 77 human fossils indicates that this ailment, also known as surfer's ear, was common in Neanderthals.
When a person suffersexostosis,one of the bones of the ear canal grows excessively and can become obstructed. This ailment, commonly known assurfer's ear, It is produced by repeated contact with cold water or wind, which is why it is very common among aquatic athletes. In addition, there is also a genetic predisposition to this ailment.
Several investigations have observed this alteration in archaic humans, but few studies have examined what information it could provide us about the lifestyle of humans in ancient times.
A new work, led by the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS, for its acronym in French) and the universities of Washington (USA) and Bordeaux (France), indicates that this diseasewas very common among Neanderthals.
"Research on Neanderthal fossils has focused on studying their posture, a basically racist approach that is concerned only with the purity of our ancestors, and only a few of us have been interested in their biology and behavior," explains Erik Trinkaus, Professor Emeritus from the University of Washington and lead author of the study published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Scientists examined fossils of77 human remains, including Neanderthals and early modern humans from the Middle and Upper Pleistocene of western Eurasia. The results showed that approximately half of the 23 Neanderthal remains exhibited exostoses, which is almost twice that of the rest of the population studied.
The most likely explanation for this pattern being repeated among this species is that they spent a considerable amount of time collecting resources inaquatic environments. However, the geographical distribution studied does not maintain a direct relationship with the old sources of water or cold climates. "This implies that Neanderthals were as agile and capable as modern humans," says the expert.
Other possible factors that could be involved in the development of the disease would be environmental or genetic predisposition. "This study is a reflection of Neanderthals' foraging ability and resources," concludes Trinkaus.
Trinkaus E, Samsel M, Villotte S (2019) External auditory exostoses among western Eurasian late Middle and Late Pleistocene humans.PLoS ONE 14 (8): e0220464. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.022046.