What do surfers, kayakers and Neanderthals have in common?

However, "swimmer's ear" was exceptionally common among Neanderthals - about half of the 23 Neanderthals included in the study exhibited mild to severe exostoses.

External auditory exostoses are dense bony growths that protrude into the ear canal. A 2017 paper, noting the prevalence of the condition in Neanderthals and early humans, suggests that it was an evolutionary adaptation to early hominins diving into cold lakes, rivers and seas to collect food.

Surfer's ear, known medically as exostosis, an abnormal growth of bone within the ear canal.

The ringing, fizzing and water-logged sensation combined with hearing loss and frequent infections is associated with a bony growth in the outer ear canal that's caused by long-term exposure to cold water or wind chill.

"Generally Neanderthal have much thicker bones, so I don't know if that has any relation with the fact they've found this additional bone deposition in the ear canal", he said.

For the goal of the study, Trinkaus and his team studied the well-preserved ear canals of 77 ancient humans, also noting swimmer's ear in Neanderthals and early modern humans that lived during the Middle to Late Pleistocene period in western Eurasia. It's a condition seen a lot in surfers, so it's known as surfer's ear (although it's also common in divers and kayakers). The team examined 23 Neanderthal ear canals, finding that there were almost twice as many exostoses cases, varying from mild to severe, compared to any other early human population previously studied.

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"An exceptionally high frequency of external auditory exostoses among the Neanderthals, and a more modest level among high latitude earlier Upper Paleolithic modern humans, indicate a higher frequency of aquatic resource exploitation among both groups of humans than is suggested by the archeological record", Dr. Trinkaus said.

'In particular, it reinforces the foraging abilities and resource diversity of the Neandertals'. Genelle Weule at the Australia Broadcasting Network reports that researchers have not discovered fish bones at Neanderthal camps or tools that would have been used for fishing or aquatic foraging. However, the geographic distribution of exostoses seen in Neanderthals does not exhibit a definitive correlation with proximity to ancient water sources nor to cooler climates as would be expected. "It is therefore likely that, as with eastern Eurasian later archaic humans, multiple factors were involved in their abundance of external auditory exostosis".

Additionally, there may be a range of other factors at play. They probably weren't catching sick waves, but instead they were perhaps hunting fish, mollusks or other marine resources, a new study in the journal PLOS One shows.

The Neanderthals were a close human ancestor that mysteriously died out around 50,000 years ago.

They were later joined by humans taking the same journey some time in the past 100,000 years. They had unique physical traits that made them different compared to modern humans.

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