The vertebral column and thorax are key anatomical regions in human evolution to understand upright bipedal posture and locomotion in terms of weight transmission, equilibrium, habitual loading and kinematics. Additionally, the vertebral column protects the spinal cord, and the size of the spine canal can offer a glimpse into the neurological basis on which throwing abilities and speech evolved, among others. Finally the study of the size of the thorax due to its relation to lung size and thus to ventilatory capacities can be helpful to assess the bioenergetics of an extinct human species.The most abundant fossil record of vertebrae and ribs of an extinct hominin is that of Neandertals (Homo neanderthalensis). Evidence points towards differences between the vertebrae and ribs of Neandertals compared to modern humans. They show larger thoraxes and a less sinuous lumbar region, among others. However, the exact shape of the Neandertal torso is still a matter of speculation. Additionally, the loading pattern and equilibrium of a larger chest and its relation to a less curved lumbar region remains obscure, not to mention its potential influence on bipedal gait.The aim of this project is to study the Neandertal vertebral column and thorax both metrically analyzing the individual vertebrae and ribs, and using modern 3D virtual reconstruction techniques on CT scanning of key Neandertal individuals. The latter will allow a better understanding of the morphology and biomechanics of these regions and significantly contribute to the understanding of Neandertal bioenergetics, a potential factor influencing their extinction. Additionally it will offer the comparative framework in which to analyze the evolution of the vertebral column and thorax of our own species.
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