The emerging fate of the Neandertals

April 24, 2007 |

For nearly a century, anthropologists have been debating the relationship of Neandertals to modern humans. Central to the debate is whether Neandertals contributed directly or indirectly to the ancestry of the early modern humans that succeeded them.

As this discussion has intensified in the past decades, it has become the central research focus of Erik Trinkaus, Ph.D., professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. Trinkaus has examined the earliest modern humans in Europe, including specimens in Romania, Czech Republic and France. Those specimens, in Trinkaus’ opinion, have shown obvious Neandertal ancestry.

In an article appearing the week of April 23 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Trinkaus has brought together the available data, which shows that early modern humans did exhibit evidence of Neandertal traits.

“When you look at all of the well dated and diagnostic early modern European fossils, there is a persistent presence of anatomical features that were present among the Neandertals but absent from the earlier African modern humans,” Trinkaus said. “Early modern Europeans reflect both their predominant African early modern human ancestry and a substantial degree of admixture between those early modern humans and the indigenous Neandertals.”

This analysis, along with a number of considerations of human genetics, argues that the fate of the Neandertals was to be absorbed into modern human groups. Just as importantly, it also says that the behavioral difference between the groups were small. They saw each other as social equals.

Source Washington University in St. Louis

2 Responses to The emerging fate of the Neandertals

  1. Anne Gilbert April 24, 2007 at 12:25 pm #

    I’ve been trying to get this point across for years. But then, I’m not a biological anthropologist, much less a “Neandertal expert” like Trinkaus. I’m just a Starving Writer who got into this, so to speak, because I didn’t know a thinkg about Neandertals in the first place. Wat I read, led me to believe, very early on, that Neandertals and “modern” humans were not all that different where it counts. I’m glad Trinkaus has come out and articulated this, in a scientific journal where, hopefully, somebody will pay attention.
    Anne G

  2. Candice Brown Elliott April 24, 2007 at 2:43 pm #

    If we are to take this new information into account, combined with previous data from the genetic diversity of both our mitochondrial and nuclear genes, we should not conclude that the Neandertal’s interbred with us to form a permanent genetic heratage in modern humans… but rather we are more like horses and donkeys, able to produce sterile mules. We were close enough to bear children together, but not close enough for those children to bear children. Possibly because of differing number of chromasomes. The fossile record says that there were individual with both early modern human and neandertal traits. While studies of our genetics in our modern populations says that we aren’t old enough as a species to have included neandertal genes. Therefor, I must conclude, the mixed progeny were mules.

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