London, April 16 : They've been dead for 30,000 years, but people may soon be able to hear Neanderthals speak, thanks to a computer model developed by researchers at the Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
Using 50,000-year old fossils from France, Robert McCarthy, an anthropologist at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton reconstructed Neanderthal vocal tracts to imitate the voice.
He said that Neanderthals' speech lacked the 'quantal vowel' sounds, which are the basis of modern speech.
While making a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Columbus, Ohio, on April 11, he said that the quantal vowels offer cues that help people with different size vocal tracts understand one another.
"They would have spoken a bit differently. They wouldn't have been able to produce these quantal vowels that form the basis of spoken language," New Scientist quoted him, as saying.
By modelling the sounds the Neanderthal pipes would have made, researchers engineered the sound of a Neanderthal saying 'E'.
As compared to a modern human 'E', the Neanderthal version doesn't have a quantal hallmark, which helps a listener distinguish between words, for example 'beat from bit'.
McCarthy plans to eventually imitate an entire Neanderthal sentence.