Paging Dr. Doolittle; January 2008; Scientific American Magazine; by John Whitfield; 2 Page(s)
"Nothing shows that Neandertals didn't have language abilities," says Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Indeed, the recent finding by Krause and his colleagues that Neandertals and humans have the same version of the gene FOXP2--the only gene linked to language so far--might be thought of as evidence that they did.
But although studies of modern humans suggest that FOXP2 is necessary for speech, no one believes that it is sufficient. The gene is "just one piece of a complicated puzzle," says geneticist Simon Fisher of the University of Oxford, part of the team that discovered it. As such, the Neandertal sequence is interesting but provides little information about their linguistic skills. "No single genetic factor can tell us whether or not an extinct species was capable of speech," Fisher says.