JERUSALEM (AP) _ Archaelogical finds by a team of American, French and Israeli professors indicate primitive man may have been able to do more than grunt, as commonly believed.

The team has discovered a two-inch bone called a hyoid from a 60,000-year- old skeleton which they believe is a key to the beginnings of speech in ancient humans.

''For the first time it is possible to say from an anatomical point of view that primitive man could speak,'' said Professor Baruch Arensberg of Tel Aviv Univerisity, a member of the team studying the remains found in northern Israel.

The findings of Arensberg and his team, however, have set off a debate among scientists and linguists over the origins of speech. Some dispute the team's conclusions.

The skeleton of a 30-year-old Neanderthal man discovered at the Kebara cave near Haifa in northern Israel in 1983 has yielded the first hyoid bone ever found in primitive man, said Arensberg.

The U-shaped bone is an integral part of the vocal tract that lies at the base of the skull in the neck and is linked to the muscles of the tongue.

Arensburg, a professor of anatomy who worked on the archaelogical dig and analyzed the human remains, said the hyoid bone proves primitive man had the same ability as modern man for speech, though it does not prove he actually had language.

Arensberg and a group of nine other professors directed by Ofer Bar-Yosef of Harvard University and Bernard Vandermeersch of the University of Bordeaux in France have studied the findings at Kebara for the past six years.

Using the hyoid and a jaw fragment from the same skeleton, they estimated the location of Neanderthal man's vocal tract.

They first published their conclusions concerning speech and the hyoid in April in the British scientific journal Nature.

On July 8, a scientific debate over the hyoid's significance appeared in the American journal Science News.

Linguist Phillip Lieberman of Brown Univeristy in Providence, R.I., was quoted as saying: ''At this point, the Kebara hyoid doesn't tell us anything about the evolution of speech and language.''

Lieberman argued that there is no basis for comparison because no other hyoids have been found from the ancestors of modern man.

Arensburg maintained, however, that the hyoid and jaw fragment demonstrate that the location of the vocal tract in primitive man and modern man is identical, giving primitive man the ability to speak.

Before the discovery, he said, scientists believed the vocal tract was located higher in the neck as in other primates, which would have made speech as now known impossible.

''My colleagues many years ago claimed that on the day the hyoid is found, we will understand speech much better,'' Arensberg said.

But those colleagues were surprised by the Kebara findings because they contradicted their theory that primitive man could not speak, he added.

Anatomist Jeffrey Laitman of New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine also disputed the Kebara team's findings. He told Science News: ''You can't reproduce the position of the entire vocal tract with just a hyoid bone and a jaw fragment.''

Anthropoligist Dean Falk of State University of New York at Albany supports the Kebara findings in the Science News article.

Through her own reconstruction of Neanderthal man's vocal tract based on other skeletons, she concluded in 1975 that ancient man could produce the full range of speech sounds.

The Kebara man is extraordinary in its completeness, Arensberg said. The team discovered almost an entire skeleton missing only the skull and parts of the legs. He was about five-feet-four and stood erect.

The Kebara findings also indicate that Neanderthal man lived in collectives or families, used tools extensively and buried the dead similarly to modern man, Arensberg said.