Neanderthal Revisionism

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Speaking of primitivism, or at least of primitive man, the Daily Mail has an interesting roundup of recent scholarship on the Neanderthals. The current portrait of our predecessors depicts a people who "were not the brutes of legend but a sophisticated and intelligent species, capable of creating fire, fashioning delicate tools, burying their dead and perhaps even making music. Their brains were actually larger than ours—although subtly different in structure." They also survived much longer than was previously believed, and were taller than is usually imagined. ("The popular and misguided view that the Neanderthals were short and stooped may have arisen because some of these skeletons probably came from individuals suffering from severe arthritis.") They might even be among our ancestors:

Maybe the supposedly dim-witted Neanderthals were wiped out systematically, the planet's first example of deliberate genocide. Maybe we simply beat them in the competition for food and territory.

Or maybe—and most intriguingly—the Neanderthal gene pool was absorbed into ours. In 1998, a skeleton was found at Lagar Velho, an excavation site about 90 miles north of Lisbon in Portugal.

The bones of a four-year-old child buried with decorative shells and ochre paint showed both recognisably Neanderthal and human characteristics, suggesting that interbreeding had occurred. This idea is controversial, and many palaeontologists maintain that the human and Neanderthal gene pools were always separate.

But if humans and Neanderthals did interbreed, this raises the possibility that many of us to this day, in Europe, have a dash of Neanderthal blood.

NEXT: Invasion of the Talk-Show Snatchers

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  1. Your world frightens and confuses me.

    I’ll bet that we did interbreed. While there may have been enough genetic difference to prevent procreation between the subspecies, my gut says that there wasn’t. Like dogs and wolves.

    Interestingly, if this is true, then most Neanderthal blood would show up in Europeans and their descendants (like most Americans). Huh. The superiority of Homo sapiens sapiens/neanderthalensis is self evident 🙂

  2. The theory I’ve heard is that the Neanderthals were the sensitive artistic types, while the ancestors of modern day humans were the brutes with advanced weapons.

    The results were predictable.

    Of course, this theory could be wrong.

  3. I firmly believe that Neanderthalensis had high technology, including flying cars. In fact, I intend to write a book about it and make $1,000,000,000. What the heck? It could be true.

  4. I wonder how this affects the “one-drop” theory?

  5. Pro Libertate

    A sapiens/neanderthalensis cross would almost certainly have been fertile. The genetic distance between humans and bonobos – our closest surviving relatives – is less than that between horses and donkeys, a cross which will produce offspring that are ocassionally fertile. [Rare, but it does happen.]

    Neanderthals and cro-magnons we coextant in Europe until the last few ten thousand years. No one has a definitive explanation as to why Neanderthals disappeared – extinction or merged into our gene pool or von Danikenized.

    The theories tend to mirror the politics of the theorizer, which thoreau correctly alludes to.

  6. This is all fine and dandy, but I can’t figure out what a picture of Gene Simmons has to do with any of this.

  7. I don’t see how early homo sapiens could have possibly resisted them hot neanderthal babes.

    In all seriousness, mammals will screw everything that fits. It would be most surprising if they didn’t at least try to interbreed. If they succeeded, it would be shocking if they didn’t essentially merge as a species.

  8. I vaguely recall reading about a theory which said that red hair is a trait we got from Neanderthals. I don’t know if that was debunked or not.

  9. I thought that DNA tests had eliminated the possiblity of Neander — Sapiens interbreeding? Of course, I believe they didn’t have that much Neander DNA to test, so maybe all we’ve done is eliminate the possibility that the sources of the Neander DNA left any descendants, as opposed to no Neander descendants at all from anywhere.

    My own completely worthless opinion is that Neander DNA explains why Europeans have such a great variety of hair and eye colors, whereas the rest of the world has to be satisfied with brown eyes and black hair. (Being a redhead has something to do with this, I know.)

    Finally, Pro L, I read somewhere that it’s not possible to distinguish dog DNA from lupine. Dogs are a subset of wolves, and the two groups can interbreed and produce fertile offspring pretty easily. Not something I’d recommend, since the offspring take after wolves, but still possible.

  10. Karen,

    I’m rather dubious about the mitochondrial DNA tests done on modern Homo sapiens to determine whether our ancestors interbred with Neanderthals. I’d be happier with some Neanderthal DNA on hand.

    I, for one, am embracing my Neanderthal roots and intend to launch a campaign of enlightened terror and vengeance on the Cro Magnon usurpers.

  11. The theory I’ve heard is that the Neanderthals were the sensitive artistic types, while the ancestors of modern day humans were the brutes with advanced weapons.

    The results were predictable.

    Actually, this dovetails perfectly with the “Neandertals were absorbed into the H. sapiens sapiens gene pool” theory.

    Scenario:

    Nice Neandertalish boy — sensitive, artistic, so polite, and always so nice to his mother — woos Neandertal girl with poetry, serenades, garlands of flowers, etc.

    Then brutish CroMagnon (H. sap. sap.) male comes by, kicks sand on Neandertal boy, gives him a noogie, steals Neandertal’s girl.

    Repeat, and result: Neandertal females only breed by interbreeding with H. sap. sap. males; Neandertal males don’t get to breed at all. Eventually, no more purebred Neandertals left, Neandertal genes increasing diluted until the present day.

  12. Karen,

    I’m rather dubious about the mitochondrial DNA tests done on modern Homo sapiens to determine whether our ancestors interbred with Neanderthals. I’d be happier with some Neanderthal DNA on hand.

    I, for one, am embracing my Neanderthal roots and intend to launch a campaign of enlightened terror and vengeance on the Cro Magnon usurpers.

  13. This comments thread is so racist.

  14. I don’t know why you’re so offended. We’ve kept it so simple that a caveman would understand it.

  15. Thank you for very interesting article. For some reason I have always thought that there was a lot more to Neanderthals than they were given credit for. I think that it is even possible that they were superior to Homo Sapience ? just not as lucky.

    They had lived in the same place for thousands of years. Perhaps they just had gotten too comfortable with their established way of life, too complacent, and as a result were displaced by more numerous and ruthless invaders from the south.

    Ilya

  16. “Perhaps they just had gotten too comfortable with their established way of life, too complacent, and as a result were displaced by more numerous and ruthless invaders from the south.”

    As I said, the theories tend to reflect the politics of the theorizers.

    I take the Von Daniken approach myself…

  17. CRAP !! No wonder I can’t trace by geneology further back than 1 million BC.

  18. This finally explains Lou Ferrigno

  19. My own completely worthless opinion is that Neander DNA explains why Europeans have such a great variety of hair and eye colors, whereas the rest of the world has to be satisfied with brown eyes and black hair.

    I thought blonde hair and light eyes also developed in some areas of the South Pacific.

  20. In July of 1997 the first ever sequencing of Neanderthal DNA, a breakthrough in the study of modern human evolution, was announced in the Journal Cell (Krings, et. al., 1997). DNA was extracted for the type specimen and the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence was determined. This sequence was compared to living human mtDNA sequences and found to be outside the range of variation in modern humans. Age estimation of the Neanderthal and human divergence is four times older than the age of the common mtDNA ancestor of all living humans. The authors suggest that the Neanderthals went extinct without contribution to the present mtDNA of modern humans.

    The Neanderthals inhabited Europe from about 300,000 to 30,000 years ago. Previous hypotheses that Neanderthals were replaced relied on mtDNA study of existing populations. Directly analyzing the remains of the Neanderthal type specimen has affirmed this view.

    The researchers removed a sample from the humerous specimen. They analyzed the extend of amino acid racemization to determine suitability for analysis. It was determined that the amino acid levels were at 20% to 73% of those in modern bone, evidencing DNA survival. This and other tests indicated the remains might contain amplifiable DNA. Amplification products were cloned. Twenty seven clones of obvious non-human origin were produced. The entire sequence of hypervariable region 1 was determined, 387 positions. This was accomplished with overlapping segments.

    In comparison to modern DNA 27 differences are seen. The Neanderthal sequence was compared with 2051 human and 59 chimpanzee sequences over 360 base pairs. Twenty five of the 27 variable base pairs coincide with positions that vary in at least one of the human sequences. The sequence was compared with 994 human mtDNA lineages. While these lineages differ among themselves by eight substitutions on average, the range of difference with the Neanderthal sequence is 22-36. The Neanderthal sequence has 28.2 ?1.9 substitutions from the European lineage, 27.1 ?12.2 substitutions from the African lineage, 27.7 ?2.2 substitutions from the Asian lineage, 27.4 ?1.8 substitutions from the American lineage, and 28.3 ?2.7 substitutions from the Australian/Oceanic lineages. This indicates no closer a relationship with Europeans than with the other modern human subsets considered.

    The comparison to chimpanzees with modern humans is 55.0 ?3.0, compared to the average between humans and Neanderthals of 25.6 ?2.2. These results indicate a divergence of the human and Neanderthal lineages long before the most recent common mtDNA ancestor of humans. Based on the estimated divergence date of 4-5 million years ago for humans and chimpanzees, the authors estimate the human and Neanderthal divergence at 550,000-690,000 years ago. The age of the common human ancestor, using the same procedure, is about 120,000-150,000 years ago.

    These results do not rule out the possibility that Neanderthals contributed other genes to modern humans. However, the results support the hypothesis that modern humans arose in Africa before migrating to Europe and replacing the Neanderthal population with little or no interbreeding.

    In March of 2000 the results of a second fossil Neanderthal DNA sequencing was announced in the Journal Nature (Ovchinnikov, et. al., 2000). The fossil specimen is an infant from the Caucasus region dating to less than 30,000 years ago. A rib was used in the DNA isolation and a 345 base pair sequence was produced. The specimen had 22 base pair differences, compared to 27 for the type specimen, over the 345 base pair sequence. The two Neanderthals share 19 substitutions. Although the two Neanderthals were separated by 2,500 km, they are closely related in mtDNA lineages.

    This second study estimates the most recent common ancestor of the Neanderthals at 151,000-352,000 years, while the human and Neanderthal divergence is placed at 365,00-853,000 years. The same model produces an age for the divergence of modern humans at 106,000-246,000 years ago.

    And…

    “If they had been very diverse at the DNA level, they could have encompassed modern humans. The fact that these two Neanderthals are closely related and not related to modern humans implies that they don’t have the diversity to encompass a modern human gene pool,” said Dr Goodwin.

    DNA comparisons also showed that different ethnic groups do not have any links to Neanderthals.

    In a commentary on the research in Nature, Matthias Hoss, of the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research, said the two studies provide the most reliable proof so far of the authenticity of ancient DNA sequences.

    The similar features of the two samples “argues against the idea that modern Europeans are at least partly of Neanderthal origin,” he said.

  21. MainstreamMan,

    You and your “science” will not dissuade me from believing that I am pure, superior Neanderthal 🙂

  22. Cro-Magnons called them Neanderthals.
    They called themselves Celts meaning “schwantze magnus.”

    smaacky!

  23. My knowledge, mainly from the discovery channel, is that Neanderthals lacked the planning and foresight of modern humans. As the little ice-age hit Europe the Neaderthals failed to adapt as well as the Cro-Magsa and they disapeered?

  24. Before us Crackers claim our Neaderthal heritage, please remember that modern Europeans came to present day Europe from the steppes of Asia and took out the previous inhabitants.

    I guess Neaderthals should be considered “Native Europeans” and anyone with their heritage should look at opening a cansino and sell firworks.

  25. But if humans and Neanderthals did interbreed, this raises the possibility that many of us to this day, in Europe, have a dash of Neanderthal blood.

    show me the genes!!!!

    anyway there is not a pronounced genetic differance between European genes and genes of non-europeans as one would expect to find with the interbreading of subspecies.

  26. Neanderthals died becouse we had dogs and they didn’t.

    date when dogs were domesticated: 40,000 BC

    date when Neanderthals went extinct: 40,000 BC

    or perhaps you believe in human caused global warming. In that case dogs became domesticated becouse the Neanderthals went extinct.

  27. “[I]f humans and Neanderthals did interbreed, this raises the possibility that many of us . . . have a dash of Neanderthal blood.”

    Well, that would explain a lot about the George W. Bush White House.

  28. Well, thanks to MainstreamMan this article can be a lot shorter than I was thinking it might be.

    Jesse’s article doesn’t say which Daily Mail he’s refering to, but assuming it’s the one from the UK it’s nothing more than a pretentious tabloid, don’t expect facts.

    To quote: “The popular and misguided view that the Neanderthals were short and stooped may have arisen because some of these skeletons probably came from individuals suffering from severe arthritis.”

    This is an argument often used by creationists to claim that the Neanderthals didn’t exist at all and Neanderthal bones found were those of AMHs with bone diseases, so I have to say I’m very skeptical of any arguments that rely on these claims.

    Didn’t Reason have a link recently to a story about how the societal differences might have caused the extinction of the Neanderthals? As I recall the theory was that Cro-Magnon groups would separate functions, so the best hunters woulds always hunt, the best butchers would always butcher, the best arrow makers would make all the arrows and their skills/products would then be purchased by other members of the group. Neanderthals would make their own arrows, spears and other tools, hunt and butcher animals themselves. As a consequence even the finest Neanderthal hunter could be let down by his spear making skills.

    In the tradition of projecting one’s own political beliefs onto the debate, I would like to claim that this was the first victory for the capitalist model of society.

  29. …the supposedly dim-witted Neanderthals …

    I deeply resemble that remark…

  30. I’ve made this remark before. I know for a fact that the neanderthal line is alive and well in our gene pool. I’ve met them on the rugby field.

  31. Headshot for a Geico commercial?

  32. It is funny how the change in our perception of Neanderthals dovetails exactly with our perception of humans living in pre-technological societies. At the beginning of the 20th century when almost everyone believed in progress Neanderthals became a symbol of the brute stupidity of a primitive lifestyle. Today when “organic” is all the rage, and people idolize Amazonian indian tribes and back to nature movements we’ve suddenly discovered that Neanderthals were all warm and fuzzy and probably morally superior to us rapacious Western types. That doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me. In all probability Neanderthals were just as vicious as humans and chimpanzees. To survive in the cold northern European climate they would have been very good hunters and probably not very “sensitive.” They were also probably very intelligent – but an intelligence that our ancestors might not have recognized for a simple reason – the available evidence strongly suggests that Neanderthals coud not talk and therefore would not have had a sophisticated language. So Neanderthals were very likely strong mute intelligent killers, who probably scared the bejeezus out of our ancestors – I’ve always wondered whether the legends of trolls and ogres so prevalent in Northern European folklore might not be a vestigial memory of a time when rapacious Neanderthals would prey on the weak humans trying to gain a foothold. The likelihood of sucessful interbreeding between the two species seems pretty low. A Neanderthal would probaby have eaten a human female not mated with her.

  33. What positions do Neanderthals tend to play, Nice Guy? Props?

  34. Half the employee/actors of the World Wrestling Entertainment company are living proof of the link between moder humans and Neanderthals.

    Massive brow ridges, large nose, subtantial musculature with firm bone connections — that’s Triple H, right there.

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