External auditory exostoses among western Eurasian late Middle and Late Pleistocene humans
External auditory exostoses (EAE) have been noted among the Neandertals and a few other Pleistocene humans, but until recently they have been discussed primary as minor pathological lesions with possible auditory consequences. An assessment of available western Eurasian late Middle and Late Pleistocene human temporal bones with sufficiently preserved auditory canals (n = 77) provides modest levels of EAE among late Middle Pleistocene archaic humans (≈20%) and early modern humans (Middle Paleolithic: ≈25%; Early/Mid Upper Paleolithic: 20.8%; Late Upper Paleolithic: 9.5%). The Neandertals, however, exhibit an exceptionally high level of EAE (56.5%; 47.8% if two anomalous cases are considered normal). The levels of EAE for the early modern humans are well within recent human ranges of variation, frequencies which are low for equatorial inland and high latitude samples but occasionally higher elsewhere. The Early/Mid Upper Paleolithic frequency is nonetheless high for a high latitude sample under interpleniglacial conditions. Given the strong etiological and environmental associations of EAE development with exposure to cold water and/or damp wind chill, the high frequency of EAE among the Neandertals implies frequent aquatic resource exploitation, more frequent than the archeological and stable isotopic evidence for Middle Paleolithic/Neandertal littoral and freshwater resource foraging implies. As such, the Neandertal data parallel a similar pattern evident in eastern Eurasian archaic humans. Yet, factors in addition to cold water/wind exposure may well have contributed to their high EAE frequencies.