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Say, “I’m sorry, Uncle Neanderthal”

Hey, remember back when we were in school, when there was absolutely, positively only one species of human? I mean, not counting those hairy Neanderthals that we absolutely, positively didn’t have sex with?

Welp, thanks to modern genetic testing, we’re now up to twenty different species of hominin — that’s a monkeybeast genetically closer to modern humans than modern apes. Looks to me like they’re analyzing old specimens and finding one after the other is sufficiently different to warrant being called a new species.

Godnose where that’s going. Did the others die out? Did our direct ancestors kill them off? Did they interbreed until their genes were indistinguishable? Or do differences in modern humans persist somehow? Those questions are so potentially unacceptable to 2015 sensibilities that I don’t expect to hear clear answers any time soon.

Oh, and ummm…grandma definitely screwed a Neanderthal. Sorry.

Phun phact — do you have your ten foot pole ready to hand? — everybody on earth has some Neanderthal DNA, except sub-Saharan Africans. Even Australian aborigenes, who split off from (probably) Asia freakishly early. I’ve read from 2.5% to 4% of our DNA is caveman.

I had kind of fallen in love with the Neanderthals years ago, long before anyone admitted they were ancestors. I’m sure we’ve done them a great wrong. They wore clothes, used tools, expertly butchered large animals. Played music (flute music!). I mean, what are the chances of a manbeast that sophisticated developing in parallel and being unrelated to modern humans except through a distant ancestor?

But the fact that got to me — when they excavated some burials, they found a layer of pollen on top of Neanderthal skeletons. Meaning they buried their dead covered in flowers. That’s too awesome.


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: February 12, 2015, 9:45 pm

This is all moving fast enough that there is seemingly contradictory information all over the place. Like, the earliest evidence of human habitation in Britain (which is where I started my journey tonight) is a million years ago — which is, like, 800,000 or so earlier than when we supposedly left Africa.

They’ve found four different species of ancient human in Britain alone!

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: February 12, 2015, 10:04 pm

Funny about the Neanderthal DNA: testing found their DNA in our gene pool but didn’t find our DNA in theirs. So either it was just Cro Magnon wimmins and Neanderthal mens getting it on (seems unlikely) or pairings the other way were sterile (does that happen?). Or, I dunno…the samples are too small.

Comment from Mrs Compton
Time: February 12, 2015, 10:50 pm


Comment from Jeff Gauch
Time: February 12, 2015, 10:50 pm

” Did the others die out? Did our direct ancestors kill them off? Did they interbreed until their genes were indistinguishable? Or do differences in modern humans persist somehow?”

People being people, I’m going to go with “Yes.”

Comment from Stark Dickflüssig
Time: February 12, 2015, 11:16 pm

Funny, this all looks just like Piltdown DNA. Welp, time to write up a new grant proposal.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: February 13, 2015, 12:50 am

Neanderthal DNA in H-sapiens? That explains soooo much.

“…or pairings the other way were sterile”. I definitely remember reading something about crossbreeding to the effect that often the interbreeding can only go one way. Was it mules? Examples escape me (damned old age!), but I bet there’s a minion here that knows.

Comment from Giles
Time: February 13, 2015, 1:06 am

The DNA testing site 23andme (Google-connected, so use at your own privacy risk) gives you their estimate of the Neanderthal percentage in your genome as part of their standard results. I (mostly European with some Indian ancestry) got 2.6%. You can even get a t-shirt with your numbers on it 🙂

Comment from Nina
Time: February 13, 2015, 1:38 am

That’s because Neandertals didn’t evolve until after humans left Africa, so if an African has Neandertal DNA, they’ve some European/Asian admixture in there somewhere.

/my cup o’ tea, although these findings turn what I learned at Cal back in the day on its ear–as new data often do!

Comment from Nina
Time: February 13, 2015, 1:42 am

Oh, and Stoaty, when I was in college studying anthropology, I had a venerable (and now dead) professor who predicted that that out-of-Africa date would be pushed back to a million years–mark my words, he said.

It seems as if prescient old F. Clark Howell was right!

Comment from Deborah HH
Time: February 13, 2015, 2:05 am

Partially related: Remember how O.J.’s DNA tests were discounted and unreliable because the blood samples had not been kept on ice.

Comment from mojo
Time: February 13, 2015, 7:00 am

Speciation isn’t all that simple. The widely accepted dividing line is whether two supposed species can interbreed successfully, and not just produce miscarriages or mules.

Therefore if we could successfully breed with cousin N., they were not a separate species, though they may have been headed in that direction.

Comment from mojo
Time: February 13, 2015, 7:03 am

Wanna bet H. Sap, moving up from warmer climes near the end of the last ice age admired H. Neandertal for his cold-weather adaptations?

Comment from drew458
Time: February 13, 2015, 9:14 am

It’s wrong, wrong, wrong I tell you! God made human beings purely from the thought in his mind, not by cross breeding them with a bunch of mud monkeys! And it was bad enough when science tried to tell us we had just one, or maybe two, different kinds of semi-humans in our makeup. But oh no, now we’ve got 20! Tomorrow it will be 21, Monday 27! Every Oog and Ugg they can dig up, put him in the heap. All of this to break down holy truth! I tell you, I’m sick of these “add hominin” attacks!


Comment from Oceania
Time: February 13, 2015, 11:43 am

Can’t say I didn’t warn you in advance

Comment from Anonymous
Time: February 13, 2015, 1:02 pm

Well Nina, you forget that OJ is a Preferred Species, and as such lives under special rules.

Comment from Oldcat
Time: February 13, 2015, 5:45 pm

I Remember reading that biologists are splitters or bundlers. Splitters find 147 kinds of thrushes in a single bush…bundlers link wildly different types into a species. I suspect the splitters are running wild now. But the single line of homonids leading to homo sap always smelled of special pleading to me.

Comment from Nina
Time: February 14, 2015, 3:54 am

Oh, they are, Oldcat, and add to that the pruning that happens every generation or so and you’ve got an adventure in biology. 🙂

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