Gibraltar: Truth, Knowledge, History Of This Gateway To The Mediterranean

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACTBOOK)

 

Gibraltar

Introduction Strategically important, Gibraltar was reluctantly ceded to Great Britain by Spain in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht; the British garrison was formally declared a colony in 1830. In a referendum held in 1967, Gibraltarians voted overwhelmingly to remain a British dependency. The subsequent granting of autonomy in 1969 by the UK led to Spain closing the border and severing all communication links. A series of talks were held by the UK and Spain between 1997 and 2002 on establishing temporary joint sovereignty over Gibraltar. In response to these talks, the Gibraltar Government called a referendum in late 2002 in which the majority of citizens voted overwhelmingly against any sharing of sovereignty with Spain. Since the referendum, tripartite talks on other issues have been held with Spain, the UK, and Gibraltar, and in September 2006 a three-way agreement was signed. Spain agreed to remove restrictions on air movements, to speed up customs procedures, to implement international telephone dialing, and to allow mobile roaming agreements. Britain agreed to pay increased pensions to Spaniards who had been employed in Gibraltar before the border closed. Spain will be allowed to open a cultural institute from which the Spanish flag will fly. A new non-colonial constitution came into effect in 2007, but the UK retains responsibility for defense, foreign relations, internal security, and financial stability.
History There is evidence of human habitation in Gibraltar going as far back as Neanderthal man, an extinct species of the Homo genus. The first historical people known to have settled there were the Phoenicians around 950 BC. Semi-permanent settlements were later established by the Carthaginians and Romans. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Gibraltar came briefly under the control of the Vandals, and would later form part of the Visigothic Kingdom of Hispania until its collapse due to the Muslim conquest in 711 AD. At that time, Gibraltar was named as one of the Pillars of Hercules, after the legend of the creation of the Straits of Gibraltar.

On April 30, 711, the Umayyad general Tariq ibn Ziyad led a Berber-dominated army across the Strait from Ceuta. He first attempted to land at Algeciras but failed. Subsequently, he landed undetected at the southern point of the Rock from present-day Morocco in his quest for Spain. Little was built during the first four centuries of Moorish control.

The first permanent settlement was built by the Almohad Sultan Abd al-Mu’min, who ordered the construction of a fortification on the Rock, the remains of which are still present. Gibraltar would later become part of the Kingdom of Granada until 1309, when it would be briefly occupied by Castilian troops. In 1333, it was conquered by the Marinids who had invaded Muslim Spain. The Marinids ceded Gibraltar to the Kingdom of Granada in 1374. Finally, it was reconquered definitively by the Duke of Medina Sidonia in 1462, ending 750 years of Moorish control.

In the initial years under Medina Sidonia, Gibraltar was granted sovereignty as a home to a population of exiled Sephardic Jews. Pedro de Herrera, a Jewish converso from Córdoba who had led the conquest of Gibraltar, led a group of 4,350 Jews from Córdoba and Seville to establish themselves in the town. A community was built and a garrison established to defend the peninsula. However, this lasted only three years. In 1476, the Duke of Medina Sidonia realigned with the Spanish Crown; the Sefardim were then forced back to Córdoba and the Spanish Inquisition. In 1501 Gibraltar passed under the hands of the Spanish Crown, which had been established in 1479. Gibraltar was granted its coat of arms by a Royal Warrant passed in Toledo by Isabella of Castile in 1501.

The naval Battle of Gibraltar took place on April 25, 1607 during the Eighty Years’ War when a Dutch fleet surprised and engaged a Spanish fleet anchored at the Bay of Gibraltar. During the four-hour action, the entire Spanish fleet was destroyed.

During the War of the Spanish Succession, British and Dutch troops, allies of Archduke Charles, the Austrian pretender to the Spanish Crown, formed a confederate fleet and attacked various towns on the southern coast of Spain. On 4 August 1704, after six hours of bombardment starting at 5 a.m., the confederate fleet, commanded by Admiral Sir George Rooke assisted by Field Marshal Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt comprising some 1800 Dutch and British marines captured the town of Gibraltar and claimed it in the name of the Archduke Charles. Terms of surrender [5] were agreed upon, after which much of the population chose to leave Gibraltar peacefully.

Franco-Spanish troops failed to retake the town, and British sovereignty over Gibraltar was subsequently recognised by the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, which ended the war. In this treaty, Spain ceded Gibraltar (Article X) and Minorca (article XI) to the United Kingdom in perpetuity. Great Britain has since retained sovereignty over the former ever since, despite all attempts by Spain to recapture it.

Due to military incursions by Spain various fortifications were established and occupied by British troops in the area which came to be known as “the British Neutral Ground.” This was the area to the north of Gibraltar, militarily conquered and continuously occupied by the British except during time of war. (The sovereignty of this area, which today contains the airport, cemetery, a number of housing estates and the sports centre, is separately disputed by Spain.)

During the American Revolution, the Spanish, who had entered the conflict against the British, imposed a stringent blockade against Gibraltar as part of an unsuccessful siege (the Great Siege of Gibraltar) that lasted for more than three years, from 1779 to 1783. On 14 September 1782, the British destroyed the floating batteries of the French and Spanish besiegers, and in February 1783 the signing of peace preliminaries ended the siege.[6]

Gibraltar subsequently became an important naval base for the Royal Navy and played an important part in the Battle of Trafalgar. Its strategic value increased with the opening of the Suez Canal, as it controlled the important sea route between the UK and colonies such as India and Australia. During World War II, the civilian residents of Gibraltar were evacuated, and the Rock was turned into a fortress. An airfield was built over the civilian racecourse. Guns on Gibraltar controlled the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, but plans by Nazi Germany to capture the Rock, codenamed Operation Felix, later named Llona, were frustrated by Spain’s reluctance to allow the German Army onto Spanish soil and the excessive price Franco placed on his aid. Germany’s Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr, also helped by filing a pointedly negative assessment of the options. Canaris was a leader of the German high command resistance to Hitler, and tipped off Franco who erected concrete barriers on roads leading to the Pyrenees.[7]

In the 1950s, Spain, then under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, renewed its claim to sovereignty over Gibraltar, sparked in part by the visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 1954 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Rock’s capture. For the next thirty years, Spain restricted movement between Gibraltar and Spain, in application of one of the articles of the Treaty. A referendum was held on September 10, 1967, in which Gibraltar’s voters were asked whether they wished to either pass under Spanish sovereignty, or remain under British sovereignty, with institutions of self-government. The vote was overwhelmingly in favour of continuance of British sovereignty, with 12,138 to 44 voting to reject Spanish sovereignty. This led to the granting of autonomous status in May 1969 , which the Government of Spain strongly opposed. In response, the following month Spain completely closed the border with Gibraltar and severed all communication links.

The border with Spain was partially reopened in 1982, and fully reopened in 1985 prior to Spain’s accession into the European Community. Joint talks on the future of the Rock held between Spain and the United Kingdom have occurred since the late 1980s, with various proposals for joint sovereignty discussed. However, another referendum organised in Gibraltar in 2002 rejected the idea of joint sovereignty by 17,900 (98.97%) votes to 187 (1.03%). The British Government restated that, in accordance with the preamble of the constitution of Gibraltar, the “UK will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes.” The question of Gibraltar continues to affect Anglo-Spanish relations.

In 1981 it was announced that the honeymoon for the royal wedding between prince Charles and Diana Spencer would start from Gibraltar. The Spanish Government responded that King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia had declined their invitation to the ceremony as an act of protest.[9]

In 1988, SAS troops shot and killed three members of the IRA who were planning an attack on the British Army band. The ensuing “Death on the Rock” controversy prompted a major political row in the UK.

2006 saw representatives of the United Kingdom, Gibraltar and Spain conclude talks in Córdoba, Spain, a landmark agreement on a range of cross-cutting issues affecting the Rock and the Campo de Gibraltar removing many of the restrictions imposed by Spain.[10] This agreement resolved a number of long standing issues; improved flow of traffic at the frontier, use of the airport by other carriers, recognition of the 350 telephone code and the settlement of the long-running dispute regarding the pensions of former Spanish workers in Gibraltar, who lost their jobs when Spain closed its border in 1969.

Geography Location: Southwestern Europe, bordering the Strait of Gibraltar, which links the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, on the southern coast of Spain
Geographic coordinates: 36 08 N, 5 21 W
Map references: Europe
Area: total: 6.5 sq km
land: 6.5 sq km
water: 0 sq km
Area – comparative: a little less than one half the size of Rhode Island
Land boundaries: total: 1.2 km
border countries: Spain 1.2 km
Coastline: 12 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 3 nm
Climate: Mediterranean with mild winters and warm summers
Terrain: a narrow coastal lowland borders the Rock of Gibraltar
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Mediterranean Sea 0 m
highest point: Rock of Gibraltar 426 m
Natural resources: none
Land use: arable land: 0%
permanent crops: 0%
other: 100% (2005)
Irrigated land: NA
Natural hazards: NA
Environment – current issues: limited natural freshwater resources: large concrete or natural rock water catchments collect rainwater (no longer used for drinking water) and adequate desalination plant
Geography – note: strategic location on Strait of Gibraltar that links the North Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Se
Politics As Gibraltar is an overseas territory of the UK, the head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who is represented by the Governor of Gibraltar. The UK retains responsibility for defence, foreign relations, internal security, and financial stability. The Governor is not involved in the day-to-day administration of Gibraltar, and his role is largely as a ceremonial representative of the head of state. The Governor officially appoints the Chief Minister and government ministers after an election. He is responsible for matters of defence, and security. On 17 July 2006, Governor Sir Francis Richards left Gibraltar on HMS Monmouth leaving the symbolic keys of the fortress of Gibraltar with the Deputy Governor. A new governor, Lt General Sir Robert Fulton KBE, replaced Sir Francis in September 2006.[11]

The Government of Gibraltar is elected for a term of four years. The unicameral Parliament presently consists of seventeen elected members. The speaker is appointed by a resolution of the Parliament.

The head of Government is the Chief Minister, currently Peter Caruana. There are three political parties currently represented in the Parliament: the Gibraltar Social Democrats, the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party, and the Gibraltar Liberal Party.

New Gibraltar Democracy and the Progressive Democratic Party have been formed since the 2003 election. The Reform Party was wound up and Gibraltar Labour Party absorbed into the GSD in a merger in 2005. A new party the Progressive Democratic Party PDP was formed in 2006.

The 2007 election was contested by the GSD, GSLP/LIBS, the PDP and two independents.

Gibraltar is a part of the European Union, having joined under the British Treaty of Accession (1973), with exemption from some areas such as the Customs Union and Common Agricultural Policy.

After a ten-year campaign[12] to exercise the right to vote in European Elections, from 2004, the people of Gibraltar participated in elections for the European Parliament as part of the South West England constituency.[13]

As a result of the continued Spanish claim, the issue of sovereignty features strongly in Gibraltar politics. All local political parties are opposed to any transfer of sovereignty to Spain. They instead support self-determination for the Rock. This policy is supported by the main UK opposition parties.

In March 2006, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw announced that a new Gibraltar constitution had been agreed upon and would be published prior to a referendum on its acceptance in Gibraltar that year.[14] In July, in a statement to the UK Parliament, Geoff Hoon, the Minister for Europe, confirmed that the new Constitution confirms the right of self-determination of the Gibraltarian people.[15]

On 30 November 2006, a referendum was held for a new constitution. The turnout was 60.4% of eligible voters of which 60.24% voted to approve the constitution and 37.75% against. The remainder returned blank votes. The acceptance was welcomed by the Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, as a step forward for Gibraltar’s political development.

People Population: 27,967 (July 2007 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 17.2% (male 2,460/female 2,343)
15-64 years: 66.3% (male 9,470/female 9,070)
65 years and over: 16.5% (male 2,090/female 2,534) (2007 est.)
Median age: total: 40.1 years
male: 39.6 years
female: 40.4 years (2007 est.)
Population growth rate: 0.129% (2007 est.)
Birth rate: 10.69 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Death rate: 9.4 deaths/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.06 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.05 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.044 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.825 male(s)/female
total population: 1.005 male(s)/female (2007 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 4.98 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 5.54 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 4.39 deaths/1,000 live births (2007 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 79.93 years
male: 77.05 years
female: 82.96 years (2007 est.)
Total fertility rate: 1.65 children born/woman

Do The Skulls Of Monkeys And Neanderthals Look More Human Than Our Human Ones Do?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

“It looks like a monkey,” exclaims an excitable young boy, looking at a replica of a skull.

We are standing in a busy gallery at the Natural History Museum in London, UK. Here, a selection of skulls that once belonged to our prehistoric ancestors have been cast in metal and put on display. Children run their hands over the skulls’ heavy brows and protruding jaws.

These reconstructed faces look impassive, but a range of emotions are painted onto the visitors’ faces. One small girl looks shy as she peeks around the legs of an adult. Joy covers the faces of three boys running wildly past, anger flickers onto the face of the teacher who scolds them, and tears flood from another child who was pushed over in their haste.

The children are all living, breathing examples of how extraordinarily expressive our faces are. Human faces convey a huge range of emotion and information through subtle shifts in the muscles around our eyes and mouth. No other animal has such an expressive face.

What’s more, each of us can instantly recognise another member of our species with a glance at their face. No other species shares our flat face, high forehead, small jaw and jutting chin – not even the many human-like species that went before us.

The question is, when did humans start to look like we do today? New scientific techniques and discoveries are starting to provide answers. But they are also revealing that our distinctive facial features may be far older than many anthropologists originally believed.

Our hominin relatives all lived within the last 10 million years (Credit: Richard Gray)

Our hominin relatives all lived within the last 10 million years (Credit: Richard Gray)

“As the last surviving species of humans on the planet, it is tempting to assume our modern faces sit at the tip of our evolutionary branch,” says Chris Stringer, an anthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London, as he joins me in the gallery.

The Neanderthal face was huge, with an enormous nose

“And for a long time, that has been what the fossils seemed to indicate,” he continues. “Around 500,000 years ago, there was a fairly widespread form of Homo heidelbergensis that has a face somewhat intermediate between that of a modern human and Neanderthals. For a long time, I argued this was our common ancestor with Neanderthals.”

Stringer shows me the cast of a real H. heidelbergensis cranium that was found at Broken Hill in Zambia in the 1920s, and which is now kept safely in the museum’s fossil collection. It is the same skull that the little boy stood in front of earlier.

With a bit of guidance, it is easy to see why this species could be the common ancestor of modern humans and our extinct cousins the Neanderthals, who died out around 40,000 years ago.

The skull of a Homo heidelbergensis (Credit: Javier Trueba/MSF/Science Photo Library)

The skull of a Homo heidelbergensis (Credit: Javier Trueba/MSF/Science Photo Library)

Modern humans have small noses and our jaws sit beneath the rest of our skull. Our cheek bones are angled and each cheek has a distinctive hollow beneath the eye socket, known as the canine fossa.

In a sinkhole in the mountains, fragments of a small, flat-faced skull were unearthed

By comparison the Neanderthal face was huge, with an enormous nose and the front of the face pulled forward. Around the cheeks the skull curved outwards, rather than being hollowed out. To our eyes, this would have given them a puffy appearance. They also had a far flatter forehead than we do, while above their eyes was a pronounced double arch of the brow-ridge that hung over the rest of their face.

H. heidelbergensis had a slightly flatter face than the Neanderthal and a smaller nose, but no canine fossa. They also had an even more pronounced brow-ridge than that seen in Neanderthals.

For decades, most anthropologists agreed that Neanderthals had retained many of these features from H. heidelbergensis as they evolved and developed a more protruding jaw, while our own species went in a different direction. That was until the 1990s, when a puzzling discovery was unearthed in the Sierra de Atapuerca region of northern Spain.

Excavations at the Atapuerca site (Credit: Javier Trueba/MSF/Science Photo Library)

Excavations at the Atapuerca site (Credit: Javier Trueba/MSF/Science Photo Library)

In a sinkhole in the mountains, fragments of a small, flat-faced skull were unearthed, alongside several other bones. The remains were identified as belonging to a previously unknown species of hominin. It was called Homo antecessor.

It was assumed that it would fill out and grow into something resembling heidelbergensis

The face of this new species of human ancestor appeared to be far more like our own, and even had the distinctive hollowing of the canine fossa. Yet it lived 850,000 years ago, well before H. heidelbergensis.

At first, this apparent contradiction was hand-waved away. The Atapuerca skull belonged to a child, aged around 10 to 12 years old. It is difficult to predict what this youngster’s face would have looked like in adulthood, because as humans age their skulls grow and change shape. “It was assumed that it would fill out and grow into something resembling heidelbergensis,” says Stringer.

However, later discoveries suggest this is not the case. “We now have four fragments from antecessor adult and sub-adult skulls,” says Stringer. “It looks like they maintain the morphology we see in the child’s skull.”

Homo antecessor remains from Atapuerca (Credit: Javier Trueba/MSF/Science Photo Library)

Homo antecessor remains from Atapuerca (Credit: Javier Trueba/MSF/Science Photo Library)

It is still difficult to make direct comparisons between hominin skulls. For one thing, many are incomplete. But even setting that aside, a phenomenon known as allometry means that changes in size also lead to changes in shape, because different body parts grow at different rates.

It seems the Neanderthals are more evolved in their own direction than modern humans

To get around this problem, Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and his colleagues have created computer models that let them “grow” skulls virtually.

“When we do this, we can explain the variation in shape between Neanderthals,” says Hublin. “But if we grow a modern human skull to the size of a Neanderthal, we don’t have something that looks like a Neanderthal. You get something different.”

Hublin thinks that modern humans have retained a lot of primitive features from our distant ancestors. “It seems the Neanderthals are more evolved in their own direction than modern humans,” he says. “They would have looked very peculiar to our eyes.”

In other words, the faces of modern humans may not be all that modern at all.

Many hominin species came before us (Credit: Richard Gray)

Many hominin species came before us (Credit: Richard Gray)

“The term ‘modern’ is somewhat misleading,” says Hublin. “When you say ‘modern’, people assume you mean ‘more evolved’, but in fact in our case it may mean ‘more primitive’.”

Our bones are continually renewed and remodelled

Hublin and his team can also use their software to mature the skulls of children, giving an idea of what they would have looked like when they became adults

When they applied it to the skull fragments of H. antecessor, they got something that looked both primitive and modern at the same time.

“The face has more prominence than modern humans,” says Hublin. “But it doesn’t have the derived features we see in the Neanderthal.”

Something even more surprising emerged when the fossilised skulls of H. antecessor were placed under a microscope.

A reconstruction of a Homo antecessor child (Credit: Richard Gray)

A reconstruction of a Homo antecessor child (Credit: Richard Gray)

Throughout life, our bones are continually renewed and remodelled. This leaves distinct patterns on the bone, which can reveal how it grew and formed. In particular, cells that deposit bone, known as osteoblasts, create a smooth surface – whereas those that absorb bone, called osteoclasts, leave it pitted with microscopic craters.

In modern humans, the area beneath the nose and around the upper jaw – known as the maxilla – is rich in cells that absorb bone. But in Neanderthals, H. heidelbergensisand other early hominins like Australopithecus, this area had lots of cells that deposit bone, causing the face to protrude forwards.

We last shared a common ancestor with Neanderthals around 700,000 years ago

“Modern humans show widespread areas of resorption all over the maxilla,” says Rodrigo Lacruz of the New York University College of Dentistry, who has led much of this work with his colleague Timothy Bromage.

“It is this resorption that helps maintain the human face where it is under the cranium, rather than protruding far forward.”

Similar patterns of bone resorption can be seen around the canine fossa in modern humans, whereas Neanderthal skulls show widespread bone deposition.

So when Lacruz, Bromage and their colleagues popped the skull fragments from H. antecessor under the microscope, they were staggered to find that the maxilla and canine fossa were heavily pitted. Not only that, but the pattern of bone reabsorption they noticed was similar to that seen in modern humans.

These similarities suggest that one of the key developmental changes responsible for the characteristic face of modern humans can be traced back to H. antecessor,” says Lacruz. “This is important, because antecessor not only showed this human-like growth pattern, but also shows some human-like morphology around 800,000 years ago.”

The skull of a Homo antecessor (Credit: Richard Gray)

The skull of a Homo antecessor (Credit: Richard Gray)

That date is significant, because the most recent studies of the human family tree suggest that we last shared a common ancestor with Neanderthals around 700,000 years ago – not long after H. antecessor‘s time.

Faced with all these findings, Stringer and many of his colleagues are now reassessing their ideas about the evolution of the human face.

Speaking at a conference in Madrid in September 2016, Stringer and several other leading experts argued that H. antecessor, or a close relative yet to be discovered, may be a better fit as the common ancestor of our species and Neanderthals than H. heidelbergensis.

The skull of a Homo heidelbergensis (Credit: Richard Gray)

The skull of a Homo heidelbergensis (Credit: Richard Gray)

H. antecessor is thought to have appeared at around the time of the first exodus of hominins from Africa, between 1.8 and 0.8 million years ago.

This would mean that our face is actually quite primitive compared to H. heidelbergensis and Neanderthals

Some of the oldest footprints to be found in Europe – discovered at Happisburgh in the UK in 2013 – are thought to have been left by H. antecessor.

Some Spanish remains also initially attributed to H. antecessor – a molar and part of a mandible – have been dated to 1.2 million years ago, although the team that discovered them has since become more cautious about their identity.

Under the new evolutionary tree that is being proposed, our species evolved from H. antecessor. Meanwhile, H, heidelbergensis diverged around 500,000 years ago and evolved independently, leading to Neanderthals.

“This would mean that our face is actually quite primitive compared to H. heidelbergensis and Neanderthals,” says Stringer.

If that is true, it would help to explain many of the differences we see between us and our evolutionary cousins.

The skull of a Neanderthal (Credit: E. R. Degginger/Science Photo Library)

The skull of a Neanderthal (Credit: E. R. Degginger/Science Photo Library)

While modern humans and Neanderthals both evolved big brains, made tools, hunted, used fire, created jewellery and developed culture, our bodies evolved in different ways. Even our brains were different shapes.

Something in those archaic hominins required them to have a large nose

Paul O’Higgins of the University of York, with Ricardo Godinho and Penny Spikins, has tried to unravel why these differences appeared. Using engineering principles, they have analysed the fossilised remains of prehistoric hominins, and modern humans, using 3D computer models.

The team was surprised to find that, despite their big jaws, H. heidelbergensis were much less efficient at biting than modern humans with our smaller, flatter faces. The shape of the H. heidelbergensis skull and the position of its muscles means they cannot physically generate intense bite forces, even though their bones are capable of withstanding them. Similar work has shown the same pattern in Neanderthals.

“The bone in modern humans fractures much earlier,” says O’Higgins. “It suggests efficient biting we get from our flat faces was not the result of natural selection, but something else.”

It now seems that our powerful bites are related to the size of our noses.

Neanderthal (left) and human (right) (Credit: Pascal Goetgheluck/Science Photo Library)

The skulls of a Neanderthal (left) and modern human (right) (Credit: Pascal Goetgheluck/Science Photo Library)

“Something in those archaic hominins required them to have a large nose, which requires a large face,” says O’Higgins. “Whether that was energetic demands or climate we are not entirely sure. But when you lose the need for a large nose, we found the face begins to tuck under the brain, and bite force increases incidentally.”

H. heidelbergensis and Neanderthals had gigantic brow ridges

The popular explanation for Neanderthals’ big noses is that they were an adaptation for the cold climates of the Pleistocene ice ages. The large nasal cavity would have warmed the cold air before it reached their lungs.

However, in a 2010 paper Stringer showed that Neanderthal sinuses did not lie outside the size range found in modern European humans. Instead, it appears the large noses seen in H. heidelbergensis and later Neanderthals may have appeared “by accident” through genetic drift, after they split from their common ancestor with modern humans.

Another prominent difference between modern humans and our ancestors may have vanished from our lineage for a different reason.

A reconstruction of a Neanderthal face, with a large brow ridge (Credit: Richard Gray)

A reconstruction of a Neanderthal face, with a large brow ridge (Credit: Richard Gray)

H. heidelbergensis and Neanderthals had gigantic brow ridges,” says O’Higgins. “It was like having a peaked cap on the top of the forehead.”

With big brow ridges, the movement of the eyebrows is limited

In research presented at the Madrid conference, he and his colleagues used their computer models to shave away the brow ridges, then looked at how this affected the structure of the face and skull. They found that the brow ridges did not provide any structural advantage. Instead, they believe these prominent arches of bone above the eyes may have served to signal dominance to other members of the species, much like the huge antlers of modern male moose.

Stringer has also suggested this, comparing ancestral hominins to olive baboons. These monkeys raise their eyebrows as part of their dominance displays. Similarly, mandrills also use bright colours on their eyebrows and snouts to indicate their rank in their group.

At the 2016 meeting, O’Higgins and his colleagues presented preliminary findings suggesting that, when our ancestors lost these aggressive-looking brow ridges, they gained a subtler form of communication.

Olive baboons (Papio anubis) (Credit: Frans Lanting, Mint Images/Science Photo Library)

Olive baboons (Papio anubis) also have large brow ridges (Credit: Frans Lanting, Mint Images/Science Photo Library)

“With big brow ridges, the movement of the eyebrows is limited,” says O’Higgins. But that changes when the ridges disappear. “When you have a flat face, you have a vertical forehead and suddenly you can move your eyebrows up and down. This means you introduce much more nuanced social communication. You can tell if someone is cross, happy or angry.”

Our faces are among our most valuable tools

If that is true, it implies that it was our status as a social, cooperative species that led us to keep our primitive faces.

Our facial expressions form a key part of our social interactions, helping us instinctively work out what someone is feeling or thinking. O’Higgins’s research suggests that we would not be able to do that if we had evolved faces like those of the Neanderthals.

Ultimately, research like this could tell us which of our hominin ancestors were able to smile, frown or show disgust with their faces as we do.

It is also a reminder that our faces are among our most valuable tools. If they were different, we could not communicate with each other as effortlessly as we do.

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