Three-dimensional morphometrics of thoracic vertebrae in Neandertals and the fossil evidence from El Sidrón (Asturias, Northern Spain)

Markus Bastir, Daniel García Martínez, Luis Rios, Antonio Higuero, Alon Barash, Sandra Martelli, Antonio García Tabernero, Almudena Estalrrich, Rosa Huguet, Marco de la Rasilla, Antonio Rosas

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31 Scopus citations


Well preserved thoracic vertebrae of Neandertals are rare. However, such fossils are important as their three-dimensional (3D) spatial configuration can contribute to the understanding of the size and shape of the thoracic spine and the entire thorax. This is because the vertebral body and transverse processes provide the articulation and attachment sites for the ribs. Dorsal orientation of the transverse processes relative to the vertebral body also rotates the attached ribs in a way that could affect thorax width. Previous research indicates possible evidence for greater dorsal orientation of the transverse processes and small vertebral body heights in Neandertals, but their 3D vertebral structure has not yet been addressed. Here we present 15 new vertebral remains from the El Sidrón Neandertals (Asturias, Northern Spain) and used 3D geometric morphometrics to address the above issues by comparing two particularly well preserved El Sidrón remains (SD-1619, SD-1641) with thoracic vertebrae from other Neandertals and a sample of anatomically modern humans. Centroid sizes of El Sidrón vertebrae are within the human range. Neandertals have larger T1 and probably also T2. The El Sidrón vertebrae are similar in 3D shape to those of other Neandertals, which differ from Homo sapiens particularly in central-lower regions (T6–T10) of the thoracic spine. Differences include more dorsally and cranially oriented transverse processes, less caudally oriented spinous processes, and vertebral bodies that are anteroposteriorly and craniocaudally short. The results fit with current reconstructions of Neandertal thorax morphology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-61
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the El Sidrón excavation team and appreciate discussions on previous versions of this manuscript with Ella Been and Asier Gómez-Olivencia and with Juan Alberto Sanchis-Gimeno. This research is funded by CGL2012-37279, CGL2012-36682, and CGL2015-63648-P (Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad, Spain) and by The Leakey Foundation. José Antonio Sánchez Sánchez, Bernardo Perea Pérez, and David Antonio Cáceres Monllor kindly provided access to the skeletal collections at the Faculty of Medicine, Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Pedro Osborne Márquez (Virtual Morphology Lab, MNCN-CSIC) assisted with surface scanning. Antoine Balzeau, Alain Froment, Philippe Mennecier, Ofer-Bar Yosef, Bernard Vandermeersch, Baruch Arensburg, and Israel Hershkovitz provided access to CT data.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Ltd


  • Axial skeleton
  • Geometric morphometrics
  • Neandertals
  • Respiratory apparatus
  • Thoracic spine


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