But now computer modelling of how it works has shown this bone was also used in a very similar way.
Writing in journal Plos One, scientists say its study is "highly suggestive" of complex speech in Neanderthals.
Prof Stephen Wroe University of New England, Armidale, NSW, AustraliaIf Neanderthals also had language then they were truly human, too”
This model allowed the group to see how the hyoid behaved in relation to the other surrounding bones.
Stephen Wroe, from the University of New England, Armidale, NSW, Australia, said: "We would argue that this is a very significant step forward. It shows that the Kebara 2 hyoid doesn't just look like those of modern humans - it was used in a very similar way."
He told BBC News that it not only changed our understanding of Neanderthals, but also of ourselves.
"Many would argue that our capacity for speech and language is among the most fundamental of characteristics that make us human. If Neanderthals also had language then they were truly human, too."read more