The Neanderthal face is not cold adapted.
Many morphological features of the Pleistocene fossil hominin Homo neanderthalensis, including the reputed large size of its paranasal sinuses, have been interpreted as adaptations to extreme cold, as some Neanderthals lived in Europe during glacial periods. This interpretation of sinus evolution rests on two assumptions: that increased craniofacial pneumatization is an adaptation to lower ambient temperatures, and that Neanderthals have relatively large sinuses. Analysis of humans, other primates, and rodents, however, suggests that the first assumption is suspect; at least the maxillary sinus undergoes a significant reduction in volume in extreme cold, in both wild and laboratory conditions. The second assumption, that Neanderthal sinuses are large, extensive, or even 'hyperpneumatized,' has held sway since the first specimen was described and has been interpreted as the causal explanation for some of the distinctive aspects of Neanderthal facial form, but has never been evaluated with respect to scaling. To test the latter assumption, previously published measurements from two-dimensional (2D) X-rays and new three-dimensional (3D) data from computed tomography (CT) of Neanderthals and temperate-climate European Homo sapiens are regressed against cranial size to determine the relative size of their sinuses. The 2D data reveal a degree of craniofacial pneumatization in Neanderthals that is both commensurate with the size of the cranium and comparable in scale with that seen in temperate climate H. sapiens. The 3D analysis of CT data from a smaller sample supports this conclusion. These results suggest that the distinctive Neanderthal face cannot be interpreted as a direct result of increased pneumatization, nor is it likely to be an adaptation to resist cold stress; an alternative explanation is thus required.