Fossil sounds: Listen To The Neanderthal Within

Skull of H. neanderthalensis from La Chapelle aux Saints in France. [Source: Wikimedia Commons]You know he’s in there somewhere, hefting his club, grinding his massive molars on one prehistoric resentment or another. Why listen to Prozac when you can consult your own inner Neanderthal? Anthropologist Robert McCarthy has developed a computer model of Neanderthal speech based on ancient fossils from France. Now you can hear the cave man you once were, and might be again when global warming drives Homo sapiens to the brink. It won’t sound anything like what you imagine. Listen. (If you don’t have QuickTime, try hearing it on PRI’s The World.)

NPR reported recently on another kind of fossil sound resurrected by computer processing:

Thomas Edison wasn’t the first person to record sound. A Frenchman named Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville actually did it earlier.

He invented a device called the phonautograph, and, on April 9, 1860, recorded someone singing the words, “Au clair de la lune, Pierrot repondit.” But he never had any intention of playing it back. He just wanted to study the pattern the sound waves made on a sheet of paper blackened by the smoke of an oil lamp.

A group of researchers found some of his old phonautograph papers and used a computer program to play the recording. They are presenting it publicly for the first time on Friday at Stanford University.

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