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July 19, 2011 10:06 AM   Subscribe

Non-Africans Are Part Neanderthal, Genetic Research Shows.

And Razib Khan of Gene Expression notes the power of PR and that this is old news. Old enough in fact for him to confirm Neanderthal genes in his own family. Cause everyone's had their family genotyped, right?

Neanderthal Genome sequenced previously.
posted by dglynn (139 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
I read about this recently, and it seems to speak that white supremacists have it all backwards (as if they would be correct in reverse). They are the true descendants of monkey fuckers.
posted by wcfields at 10:12 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Who knew that calling racists neanderthals all this time was right in both senses of the word?
posted by phunniemee at 10:13 AM on July 19, 2011 [14 favorites]


They are the true descendants of monkey fuckers.

I think you mean "monkey fuckers who may have played the flute."
posted by Hoopo at 10:14 AM on July 19, 2011 [31 favorites]


*Gasp* Jean Auel was right!
posted by Kitty Stardust at 10:15 AM on July 19, 2011 [15 favorites]


... ... ... 'cause there are no racist Africans.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:15 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Pfft. Yabba dabba doo.

/urg
posted by swift at 10:16 AM on July 19, 2011


Neanderthal genes are just a social construct.
posted by codswallop at 10:18 AM on July 19, 2011 [15 favorites]


If white scientists had discovered this earlier, we would have a stereotype of neanderthals as being resourceful and intelligent, rather than brutish savages.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:19 AM on July 19, 2011 [67 favorites]


I dunno. I'm pretty sure I've met a few who were practically all Neanderthal.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:19 AM on July 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


This just in: Neanderthals Came From Africa
posted by DU at 10:20 AM on July 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


If white scientists had discovered this earlier, we would have a stereotype of neanderthals as being resourceful and intelligent, rather than brutish savages.

Don't worry, it's already on its way: "Could our big brains come from Neanderthals?" "Neanderthals Were Too Smart to Survive."
posted by gerryblog at 10:22 AM on July 19, 2011 [9 favorites]


The question on everyone's mind has always been whether the physically stronger Neanderthals, who possessed the gene for language and may have played the flute, were a separate species or could have interbred with modern humans. The answer is yes, the two lived in close association.

Well, that certainly clears that up.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:23 AM on July 19, 2011 [10 favorites]


We've always been at war with primordial soup.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 10:24 AM on July 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


Well if our ancestors bred with Neanderthals, doesn't that mean that they were not a different species after all? I thought one of the definitions of species included "a distinct group whose members could could only breed with each other".
posted by Renoroc at 10:24 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Prediction-- they claim this interbreeding happened "early on"--- they will find that interbreeding happened to some degree up until the excinction of the neanderthals.

Just a wild guess.
posted by xarnop at 10:26 AM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Renoroc, that's a commonly understood definition, but clearly not sufficient; just think of mules.
posted by gerryblog at 10:26 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Feels like there could be a new Chuck Lorre sitcom in there somewhere.
posted by Casimir at 10:28 AM on July 19, 2011


... ... ... 'cause there are no racist Africans.

Sure there were, humboldt32. The colonial Europeans did interbreed while they were there, you know.

(Too early for a black supremacist purity-of-essence master-race society?)
posted by IAmBroom at 10:28 AM on July 19, 2011


I thought one of the definitions of species included "a distinct group whose members could could only breed with each other"

'Species' is one of those vexing terms that includes a lot of caveats. Really, there are just individuals of varying similarity to other individuals.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:28 AM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


But the big difference is that mules can't have more mules, right?
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 10:29 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I read up upon Neanderthals on wikipedia after watching the BBC docu-fiction Planet of the Apemen.

I think they were a fascinating species. Their brains were on average bigger than ours and they probably had language, probably very similar vocalisation capabilities to modern humans.
Their bodies not equipped to throw spears, so they tackled their pray by jumping on it and wrestling it down - most of the skeletons found have multiple fractures akin to modern rodeo professionals... their much larger and stronger physique must have been a fearsome sight to early humans, and I wonder how their encounters might have played out, now we found evidence of interbreeding.
posted by ts;dr at 10:29 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


the whole idea of a 'species' is a pathology of enlightenment reasoning
posted by facetious at 10:30 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I shall write a book about "Your Inner Neandertal" and sell red ochre and bear skulls to the credulous and desperate New Age types.
posted by The otter lady at 10:30 AM on July 19, 2011 [31 favorites]


This is a slippery sloping forehead.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:31 AM on July 19, 2011 [25 favorites]


"interbreeding" is a nice euphemism for prehistoric rape.
posted by wcfields at 10:31 AM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Non-Africans Are Part Neanderthal

I noticed that, at the last family get-together.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 10:31 AM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


I shall write a book about "Your Inner Neandertal" and sell red ochre and bear skulls to the credulous and desperate New Age types.

Shut up and take my money!
posted by codswallop at 10:31 AM on July 19, 2011 [10 favorites]


But the big difference is that mules can't have more mules, right?

Usually but not always.

The better, more complete answer is what ChurchHatesTucker said: "species" is not a natural distinction but a human construct. There are a lot of places where firm boundaries are ambiguous or impossible to draw.
posted by gerryblog at 10:31 AM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Probably the greatest crime in human history to this point was the extermination of the Neandertals.

Definitive evidence that some of their genes were passed on has made me feel a little-- but only a little-- better about being human.
posted by jamjam at 10:32 AM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


If white scientists had discovered this earlier, we would have a stereotype of neanderthals as being resourceful and intelligent, rather than brutish savages.

Don't worry, it's already on its way: "Could our big brains come from Neanderthals?" "Neanderthals Were Too Smart to Survive."


Next: General Motors introduces the "Chevy Neanderthal" (different only in name from past models)
posted by Vibrissae at 10:32 AM on July 19, 2011


At the risk of sounding like my wife, (when she called the phrase abominable snowman "racist") I think that insulting racist white people by calling them neanderthals is bad because it perpetuates stereotypes about neanderthals.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:33 AM on July 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


> "interbreeding" is a nice euphemism for prehistoric rape.

We have little information about the balance of the sexes in prehistoric times. Perhaps groups that were basically fertility cults had sexual mores dictated by the alpha women. Perhaps homo sapiens would go out and seduce Neanderthals as a form of rebellion. There's just not much to go on.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 10:33 AM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


"interbreeding" is a nice euphemism for prehistoric rape.

I know you'll never understand, Dad, but Grog and I are in love.
posted by BrashTech at 10:33 AM on July 19, 2011 [37 favorites]


> Probably the greatest crime in human history to this point was the extermination of the Neandertals.

We also don't know definitively if there was some kind of widespread genocide perpetrated or if Neanderthals stopped breeding or simply were assimilated.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 10:35 AM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Some of my best friends are abominable.
posted by Babblesort at 10:35 AM on July 19, 2011 [9 favorites]


We should find out who has the most neanderthal DNA and be all racist towards them.
posted by ian1977 at 10:36 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Definitive evidence that some of their genes were passed on has made me feel a little-- but only a little-- better about being human.

You must feel a lot of guilt.
posted by Hoopo at 10:36 AM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


We should find out who has the most neanderthal DNA and be all racist towards them.

I hear they're ginger.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:37 AM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


(when she called the phrase abominable snowman "racist")

We prefer to be called Yeti-Americans.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:41 AM on July 19, 2011 [15 favorites]


To say nothing of abominable snowwomen.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:44 AM on July 19, 2011


I was fascinated by the hominid anthro courses I took in university. That there were so many hominids all existing at the same time during certain periods of time was mind blowing. What was happening at that time to stimulate the emergence of so many varieties? Awesome in class and after class discussions.

One of the many great discussions we had in class was about the likelyhood neanderthals were part of our family tree. Some students were dead set against it and declared it impossible. I always thought this was because of the inaccurate stigma of brutish stupidity associated with the term neanderthal. Given the number of classical neanderthal features I observed in the white male population around me I always figured there was cross breeding.

I wonder how many genes will eventually be identified and if any will be for the different eye and hair colors that exist in european populations?
posted by Gwynarra at 10:44 AM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Definitive evidence that some of their genes were passed on has made me feel a little-- but only a little-- better about being human.

You must feel a lot of guilt.


Seems preferable to self-satisfied smugness, somehow.
posted by jamjam at 10:46 AM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


Surely this...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:46 AM on July 19, 2011


It is kinda sad that we have nothing left to interbreed with. Maybe we should bring 'em back.
posted by ian1977 at 10:47 AM on July 19, 2011


It is kinda sad that we have nothing left to interbreed with.

You could always try for some centaurs and minotaurs.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:49 AM on July 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


Probably the greatest crime in human history to this point was the extermination of the Neandertals.

Depends if there were six million Neanderthals
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:51 AM on July 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


Please, the term was originally "the abdominal snowmen," in reference to the Yeti's penchant for grueling regimens of crunches and other core-building exercises. This is what set them apart from their flabbier neighbors. Damned transliteration issues....
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:52 AM on July 19, 2011 [8 favorites]


I know the "monkey fucker" thing is humorous AND I'd like us to keep tongue out of cheek that monkeys|=apes|=hominids

Homo sapiens sapiens and Homo sapiens neanderthalensis (assuming subroup status) is just another way of us realizing we aren't a special snowflake on this planet. Whether you hate him or not Jared Diamond's "The Third Chimpanzee" essentially postulates that a taxonomist coming from another planet would categorize us on the same limb with Chimp and Bonobo.

Also, I blame Avatar.
posted by lomcovak at 10:55 AM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


There's a WikiP page on Neanderthal Extinction Hypotheses. I find the bit on running ability to be interesting. It may well be that they were actually smarter (going by raw cranial capacity) but couldn't compete physically.

That whole Jocks/Geeks thing may be a racial memory after all.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:58 AM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


Seems preferable to self-satisfied smugness, somehow.

I don't follow - are you implying it's smug and self-satisfied for one to be OK with being a member of one's species?
posted by Hoopo at 10:59 AM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


"interbreeding" is a nice euphemism for prehistoric rape.

Probably true, although I suspect that "reproduction" in general is probably not much more than a euphemism for rape up until fairly recently in the history of biological and cultural evolution.

I am admittedly cynical, but I suspect that "nasty, brutish, and short" would adequately describe sex in the pre-modern period (and, to be honest, much of the modern as well; the view of rape as predominantly a property crime is one that has not been completely extinguished, and doesn't seem especially compatible with any reasonable conception of 'consent'.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:01 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't follow - are you implying it's smug and self-satisfied for one to be OK with being a member of one's species?

I'm one of those typical, self-hating humans.
posted by chemoboy at 11:03 AM on July 19, 2011


Wait a minute....what if we ARE the neanderthals and its the humans that disappeared!

What is the equivalent word for humanity but for neanderthals? Neanderthalanity?

Oh the Neanderthalanity!
posted by ian1977 at 11:03 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Right? So, have you ever noticed how Neanderthals walk like this, but Homo sapiens walk like this...?
posted by the sobsister at 11:04 AM on July 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


Now that we know the genes are out there, can we (ignoring the question "should we") breed back to the at least a physical genotype? Would the result be recognizably human, or would it perhaps fall into the uncanny valley?

Any volunteers?
posted by Blackanvil at 11:05 AM on July 19, 2011


Do you know who else was descended from Neanderthals?
posted by ob at 11:05 AM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Do you know who else was descended from Neanderthals?
Gandhi?
posted by Flunkie at 11:09 AM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


There was concern earlier that the Neanderthal genome sequencing sample was contaminated with contemporary human DNA. Was that ever cleared up? If not, how do they know that this is not further evidence of contamination?
posted by Coventry at 11:09 AM on July 19, 2011


I wonder if they even knew or understood the difference. So few people (both human and neanderthal) were around in those times that perhaps drawing lines was difficult. If you had only ever met <100 different humans you would think they were all pretty different, and maybe neanderthals just seemed like an extension of that variability. It would be difficult to have enough examples of people to firmly classifying people into two distinct groups. This becomes even harder once interbreeding occurs.

Maybe the concern over neanderthals and their relationship with humans is totally modern.
posted by Jehan at 11:13 AM on July 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


I wonder how many genes will eventually be identified and if any will be for the different eye and hair colors that exist in european populations?

No. The gene for blue eyes is thought to be only 6k - 10k years old. In other words, agriculture has existed longer than blue eyes.

I don't know about blonde hair, but I doubt it. All non-Africans have Neanderthal ancestors, there aren't many blondes outside Europe therefore we can be pretty sure that this gene mutation also happened somewhere in Northern Europe much later than the extinction of the Neanderthals.
posted by atrazine at 11:15 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Now that we know the genes are out there, can we (ignoring the question "should we") breed back to the at least a physical genotype?

I don't think that sequencing of the genome (presumably from fragments) necessarily implies that we have the ability to recreate a viable zygote. Maybe at some point, but I don't believe that capability exists right now. If it did, I think that there would be other species (e.g. woolly mammoths) that would be candidates for breeding and have fewer ethical concerns.

I remember reading a lot in the popular press back ~10 years ago about cloning woolly mammoths using sequenced DNA fragments, but haven't heard much about it recently, so I assume the technology is not yet there. Or maybe the articles were grossly exaggerating the possibilities at the time.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:16 AM on July 19, 2011


I wonder if they even knew or understood the difference. So few people (both human and neanderthal) were around in those times that perhaps drawing lines was difficult.

That's a really good point actually.
posted by atrazine at 11:17 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Blonde hair is an evolutionary adaptation for hiding in fields of St Johns Wort.
posted by ian1977 at 11:18 AM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


...Neanderthals, who possessed the gene for language
This is sloppy reporting - FOXP2 is not "the language gene".
posted by Condroidulations! at 11:24 AM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ice Cube was right.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:25 AM on July 19, 2011


"interbreeding" is a nice euphemism for prehistoric rape.

wcfields, I've seen pictures of a raccoon mounting a dog, a giraffe humping a mule, and so on. None of the involved animals appeared to be suffering from their "assault".

Ergo, "rape" (in your usage) is a nice euphemism for "interbreeding".
posted by IAmBroom at 11:25 AM on July 19, 2011


So you're saying the mule was asking for it? Uh huh, typical giraffe rapist apologist.

It's "people" like you that make me happy I'm a Neanderthal.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 11:31 AM on July 19, 2011 [11 favorites]


From the fourth link above;

"But the most recent research (dating to 2007) seems to suggest that the Neanderthals may have been highly depigmented. This shouldn’t be too surprising when one considers that they were resident in northern climes for hundreds of thousands of years."


Ancient DNA Reveals Neandertals With Red Hair, Fair Complexions.
posted by dglynn at 11:31 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: the true descendants of monkey fuckers.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:32 AM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ergo, "rape" (in your usage) is a nice euphemism for "interbreeding"

Your neanderthal privilege is showing.
posted by Hoopo at 11:48 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your neanderthal privilege is showing.

Unpack your Cro-Magnon backpack.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:52 AM on July 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


This is cool. Yay for descending partially from Neanderthals! I hope we can eventually use Neanderthal DNA to resurrect the species, Jurassic Park style! With fewer velociraptor attacks!
posted by Justinian at 12:02 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


With fewer velociraptor attacks!

Wrong! MORE!
posted by ian1977 at 12:03 PM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Dude! What the fuck? What happens in the Neander Valley, stays in the Neander Valley!
posted by chillmost at 12:09 PM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


The key to humanity is that racism should be wrong even when it is contradicted by scientific evidence.
posted by three blind mice at 12:09 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


is there a stuffneanderthalslike blog yet?
posted by modernnomad at 12:11 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Dude! What the fuck? What happens in the Neander Valley, stays in the Neander Valley!

Except for the delicious dressing, Neander Valley Ranch.
posted by ian1977 at 12:11 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


If this is true, it would still be impossible to reconstruct the neanderthal genome - at least, from its remnants in the human population. Jurassic Park style cloning from fossils is something different, and who knows, maybe that could happen some day.

But after more than 300 000 years of genetic drift, the neanderthal genome would be spread far and wide in the homo sapiens gene pool, like breadcrumbs lost upon a vast ocean. They would always be with us, but in a distributed fashion.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:17 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


They would always be with us, but in a distributed fashion.

Like Obi Wan Kenobi.
posted by ian1977 at 12:21 PM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well I'm glad we didn't eat *all* of them.
posted by meehawl at 12:24 PM on July 19, 2011


Breeding back neanderthals would be the same process as creating Heck cattle. The idea is wonderful and at the same time terrifying. I'm dubious about the worth of such breeding programs, but carrying it out on humans would be an awesome challenge.
posted by Jehan at 12:24 PM on July 19, 2011


Given the number of classical neanderthal features I observed in the white male population around me I always figured there was cross breeding.
According to the article, you ought to have been looking for features shared by everyone native to the Americas, Australia, etc. too.
I thought one of the definitions of species included "a distinct group whose members could could only breed with each other"
That's mostly right, but the trouble with any bright-line definition of species is that it's doomed to fail in some applications, because ability to interbreed is not transitive. Only a few applications fail spectacularly when you try to apply them to modern ring species. But if you start looking at gradual differences in space-time rather than just in space, then every sexually reproducing animal belongs to the same "ring species": capable of interbreeding with its parents' generation, which were capable of interbreeding with their parents' generation, all the way back to a common ancestor and then forward again to any "different species" on Earth today.

We partition life into "this species" vs "that species" for the same reason we partition part of the visible spectrum into "red" vs "orange", just because it's usually a very convenient practical thing to do, despite the fact that any dividing line is going to boil down to "is that orangeish red or reddish orange?" type arbitrariness when you look closely.
posted by roystgnr at 12:31 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wouldn't this research tend to prove racists correct in their claim that there is an intrinsic difference between sub-Saharan Africans and... everyone else?
posted by TSOL at 12:34 PM on July 19, 2011


I have always assumed this to be the case, based on my father. No, I'm not kidding.
posted by kyrademon at 12:41 PM on July 19, 2011


Wouldn't this research tend to prove racists correct in their claim that there is an intrinsic difference between sub-Saharan Africans and... everyone else?
(1) Yes.

(2) So?

(3) It doesn't prove that any such difference is in any way meaningful, especially not in the ways that they imagine.

(4) Every significantly large population of humans has intrinsic differences with everyone else. That's not new.
posted by Flunkie at 12:44 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


TSOL: "Wouldn't this research tend to prove racists correct in their claim that there is an intrinsic difference between sub-Saharan Africans and... everyone else?"

Yes, but the difference is that sub-Saharan Africans are more 'pure'.
posted by wcfields at 12:45 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


so, what about the lizard people?
posted by pyramid termite at 12:46 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Looking for a Pangean relationship? Keep moving.

Passionate intellectual seeks exogenous mate for love affair, children and occasional close association and possible flute playing, who knows? ;-)
I am strong and sturdy with major body hair, if you are ok with that.

You should spirited and playful, of high intelligence (for, y'know, you people). You do not have to be tool using but at least have spunk and endurance. Being able to learn language in some capacity is plus. I like foraging, especially long distances. Let's roam to enrich our genome. :-D

Note: Me likey bouncy.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:47 PM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Wouldn't this research tend to prove racists correct in their claim that there is an intrinsic difference between sub-Saharan Africans and... everyone else?

The racist argument isn't just that there's a genetic difference, however small, between people. It's that there's a small genetic difference between people, and therefore one of those groups is lesser.

So, technically yes, but it's supporting the part of the argument no one really disagrees with. Also, they'd not like the research because it shows that sub-saharan Africans are more racially pure.

On preview, I see wcfields and Flunkie have it covered.
posted by mrgoat at 12:50 PM on July 19, 2011




And it's a really small difference. The genetic variability between humans is pretty low compared to other species, even if this neanderthal thing is thrown in. We're all of us, all over the world, more alike than different.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:54 PM on July 19, 2011


Probably the greatest crime in human history to this point was the extermination of the Neandertals.

Geez, natural selection is not a crime.
posted by BobbyDigital at 1:00 PM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Neanderthals' Last Stand Possibly Found: A newly found prehistoric toolkit suggests Neanderthals may have lingered in Russia's Ural Mountains as recently as 33,000 years ago.

The point that really stood out to me here was this:
The Neanderthals may have been gradually absorbed into the population of anatomically modern humans via interbreeding and replacement. As Mangerud explained, "Probably modern humans ousted the Neanderthals."

Slimak likens this to what happened to earlier populations from the Americas.

"In a bit more than 500 years, what will remain of the traditional native societies in America? Just imagine what will remain of these impressive cultures, or their territories, during the next millennium," he said.
Granted, Native Americans are not a separate species from Homo sapiens, but I think the larger point - that there is a human tendency towards a societal consensus that the Other is not human, or human enough, and should be shunned and exterminated - has been largely proven by history.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:05 PM on July 19, 2011


Probably the greatest crime in human history to this point was the extermination of the Neandertals.

what about the extermination of the halflings, the forced exile of the elves, the undergroundation of the dwarves, the woodchippering of the ents and the scholarshipization of the orcs to the ohio state football team, a fate worse than death?

TOLKIEN LIED!! - THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE!!!
posted by pyramid termite at 1:10 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Now that we know the genes are out there, can we (ignoring the question "should we") breed back to the at least a physical genotype? Would the result be recognizably human, or would it perhaps fall into the uncanny valley?"

That wouldn't work though, in order for us to live with Neanderthals again, it wouldn't need to. In the next decade or two it will only get more and more feasible to modify either a chimpanzee or human genome and insert it into either a chimpanzee or human egg to be birthed by a chimpanzee or human mother. Both options have ridiculous ethical boundaries but will be possible, and I think imperative, within our lifetime
posted by Blasdelb at 1:30 PM on July 19, 2011


Why would either of those options be imperative? Scientifically interesting? Sure. Ethically challenging? Definitely. But a 'human imperative'? Don't see it.
posted by modernnomad at 1:44 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder if legends of our encounters with other species of humans came down to us in the form of legend of elves or trolls or what have you. Or maybe they didn't come down to us at all, alas.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:47 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait a minute....what if we ARE the neanderthals and its the humans that disappeared!

I'm pretty sure I read that short story in a musty old 1950s issue of Amazing Stories magazine. Then Rod Serling made an episode of Twilight Zone out of it, right/
posted by aught at 1:56 PM on July 19, 2011


Hm. The neanderthal culture - if that's the proper word - existed far longer than homo sapiens culture. If they had language, what stories, ideas, societies did they develop?
Neanderthals, whose ancestors left Africa about 400,000 to 800,000 years ago, evolved in what is now mainly France, Spain, Germany and Russia, and are thought to have lived until about 30,000 years ago. Meanwhile, early modern humans left Africa about 80,000 to 50,000 years ago.
posted by Termite at 2:02 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


> The neanderthal culture - if that's the proper word - existed far longer than homo sapiens culture. If they had language, what stories, ideas, societies did they develop?

Well, they didn't write or leave any cave art that we know about! Who knows, though. Maybe the stories of Gilgamesh and the other precursors to biblical tales were originally told by Neanderthal shamen, and they were just continually retold and pinched by the new guys.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 2:05 PM on July 19, 2011


Maybe the concern over neanderthals and their relationship with humans is totally modern.

Geez, natural selection is not a crime.



Yeah, I think a few of the concerns expressed in this thread may suffer from a bit of presentism, especially considering we're talking about pre-history and can only speculate on what may have happened.
posted by Hoopo at 2:06 PM on July 19, 2011


Yeah, I think a few of the concerns expressed in this thread may suffer from a bit of presentism, especially considering we're talking about pre-history and can only speculate on what may have happened.

Exactly, it is incredibly unfair, and frankly stupid to foist modern 1st world morals onto groups of people that were constantly balancing on the razors edge of death from starvation, competition with other groups, and being eaten by large predators. So what if there were already other hominids living there, I for one am glad that our ancestors were able to out compete them and procreate more successfully for a longer period of time.
posted by BobbyDigital at 2:14 PM on July 19, 2011


Why would either of those options be imperative? Scientifically interesting? Sure. Ethically challenging? Definitely. But a 'human imperative'? Don't see it.

Because you'll pay at least $30 to see it.

Or *someone* will at least
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 2:22 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Probably the greatest crime in human history to this point was the extermination of the Neandertals.

Definitive evidence that some of their genes were passed on has made me feel a little-- but only a little-- better about being human.


Heaven forbid we evolved to be more adaptable than Homo Neandertalensis.

Why is everything humankind does to upset an arbitrarily assigned status quo automatically a crime for some people?

Let's go tell elephants they're assholes for outlasting the mammoth.
posted by unigolyn at 2:58 PM on July 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


"Why would either of those options be imperative? Scientifically interesting? Sure. Ethically challenging? Definitely. But a 'human imperative'? Don't see it."

Assuming that Neanderthals are human, I think we have a duty to that humanity to share it again. Carl Sagan was hoping for aliens in the wrong place, we don't want to find interstellar aliens anyway. Imagine the contributions another radically different way of thinking could give us?

Besides, our existence on this rock is a lot more fragile than we generally give it credit for, we had some trouble surviving the last century, the next one is looking like it may have similarly dramatic challenges. Thinking about how rough the next millennia might be, a little more diversity in our fantastically inbred species might make extinction that much harder for us to pull off.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:22 PM on July 19, 2011


Assuming that Neanderthals are human, I think we have a duty to that humanity to share it again

Have you learned NOTHING from Planet of the Apes?
posted by Hoopo at 3:30 PM on July 19, 2011


Hm. The neanderthal culture - if that's the proper word - existed far longer than homo sapiens culture. If they had language, what stories, ideas, societies did they develop?
Neanderthals, whose ancestors left Africa about 400,000 to 800,000 years ago, evolved in what is now mainly France, Spain, Germany and Russia, and are thought to have lived until about 30,000 years ago. Meanwhile, early modern humans left Africa about 80,000 to 50,000 years ago.
I don't think it really follows, from what you quote, that "neanderthal culture existed far longer than homo sapiens culture":

First, it doesn't say neanderthals existed starting from 400,000 to 800,000 years ago. It says that their ancestors (not they) left Africa that long ago. They would have existed only more recently than that.

Second, it doesn't say that modern humans existed starting 80,000-50,000 years ago. It says they (not their ancestors) left Africa that long ago. They would have existed more anciently than that.

In fact, a quick glance at Wikipedia seems to suggest the opposite of what you've concluded:

"By 130,000 years ago, complete Neanderthal characteristics had appeared", while "Anatomically modern humans originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago". Since Neanderthals had died out or been subsumed entirely into us by about 30,000 years ago, that would mean we've been around for about twice as long as they had been, assuming Wikipedia is to be believed on these points.
posted by Flunkie at 3:34 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]



Let's go tell elephants they're assholes for outlasting the mammoth.


If that's what you want to do, better not wait too long, because at current rates we'll have slaughtered all the elephants too, within a couple of generations.

And most scientists who've studied the issue think we're responsible for the extinction of the mammoths as well, of course.

But they really wanted it, right?
posted by jamjam at 3:42 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well if our ancestors bred with Neanderthals, doesn't that mean that they were not a different species after all? I thought one of the definitions of species included "a distinct group whose members could could only breed with each other".

Some people classify Neaderthals as homo sapiens neanderthalensis and modern humans as homo sapiens sapiens, which designates them as the same species.
posted by bq at 3:43 PM on July 19, 2011


Some people classify Neaderthals as homo sapiens neanderthalensis and modern humans as homo sapiens sapiens, which designates them as the same species.
And of course it's beyond that, since our last common ancestors with Neanderthals (prior to the subsequent interbreeding) were from hundreds of thousands of years before either of us existed. So people subscribing to this view also refer to a bunch of different categories of ancient homo this way - for example "homo sapiens heidelbergensis" rather than "homo heidelbergensis".
posted by Flunkie at 3:53 PM on July 19, 2011


And most scientists who've studied the issue think we're responsible for the extinction of the mammoths as well, of course.

I think this is overstating the case, as I understand it. The explanations I've read seem to suggest the mammoths were already in great decline due to changing climactic conditions, rising sea levels, the encroachment of forests into their habitat, and any number of other factors before humans came into contact with them.

In any event, I'm not sure why you are trotting out what bad things you think Paleolithic and Neolithic humans did as a justification for your misanthropy. There's more than enough examples for you to draw on in the last 100 years that are at least well-documented and supported by evidence.
posted by Hoopo at 4:19 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sorry, 30 000 years of genetic drift. I was off by a factor of 10 there.

It's hard to say if any of our ancient folklore originally came from or was about sentient cousins. Probably not, considering the huge spans of time involved, but you never know. On Flores Island in Indonesia, where scientists found those Hobbit sized fossils that may have come from another hominid species, the local people tell legends about the Ebu Gogo - nasty little characters that walked on two legs and stole the occasional baby. According to the stories the Ebu Gogo lasted until the 1600s(!), which seems a little unlikely. But maybe it's a memory of a far more ancient time when they shared the island with another species.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:21 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


How could anyone seriously think about cloning a Neanderthal? The horror of living as the only one of your kind, the prejudice and distress of simply being a specimen and experiment— this is basically the definition of unethical research and it's the reason people think scientists are inhumane and cold.

There are some experiments that are impermissible. Like the one about raising children without social contact and language, this is one of them.
posted by Maias at 4:28 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Besides, Mary Shelley already covered that scenario.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:32 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's hard to say if any of our ancient folklore originally came from or was about sentient cousins. Probably not, considering the huge spans of time involved, but you never know.

Basque folklore has stories of stout hairy Basajaunak and Jentilak, which have previously been suggested as a memory of neanderthals. It's impossible to prove, but certainly some of the last populations of neanderthals lived in Iberia.
posted by Jehan at 4:35 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Clearly the differences between neanderthals and humans are immeasurably greater than the differences that exist between any two human sub-populations (or so-called "races").

Considering how large a role racism has played throughout human history, even between groups whose genetic differences amounted to little more than skin color, hair type and minor facial features, it is a unsettling thought experiment to think of how neanderthals would fit into the modern world had they somehow survived.

While the differences between modern "races" of humans are now understood to be completely superficial, the same is clearly not true for neanderthals, yet this finding shows that they cannot be considered a separate species.

My question, if anybody knows the answer, is how much genetic difference does there need to be between populations before their hybrid offspring will be infertile? When does a "race" become a "subspecies", and a "subspecies" become a "species"?

Would the human-neanderthal hybrid have been as fertile as anyone else or less so?
posted by moorooka at 5:44 PM on July 19, 2011


Why did homo-sapien sapien genes win out? Neanderthal women had hairy tits. Even the Neanderthal men wouldn't sleep with them after finding out there were more attractive mates to be had.
posted by tgyg at 5:54 PM on July 19, 2011


Considering how large a role racism has played throughout human history, even between groups whose genetic differences amounted to little more than skin color, hair type and minor facial features, it is a unsettling thought experiment to think of how neanderthals would fit into the modern world had they somehow survived.

I read an alternate history short story about this when I was kid. The premise was that Neanderthals survived until the present in North America (replacing Native Americans) and were enslaved by Europeans at the moment of first contact. The story concerned the fight for Neanderthal recognition and civil rights. Googling around a bit, I think it might have been Turtledove's A Different Flesh (which is about Homo erectus rather than Neanderthals, technically).
posted by gerryblog at 6:08 PM on July 19, 2011




Why did homo-sapien sapien genes win out? Neanderthal women had hairy tits. Even the Neanderthal men wouldn't sleep with them after finding out there were more attractive mates to be had.

This kind of comment makes me wonder if there's a general unconscious assumption that it was normally the "superior" homo sapiens men raping or seducing the "inferior" neanderthal women.

I see no reason not to assume that the mixing of genes happened both ways, including neanderthal men with homo sapiens women.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:46 PM on July 19, 2011


I think the joke here is on the Geico caveman ads.
posted by Slackermagee at 6:46 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hooray! Does this mean I can paint a fruiting tree on the side of my van, drive around the Congo and seduce some bonobos without all that oppressive societal judgment? I mean... it's fair game now, right? Because of science?

I see no reason not to assume that the mixing of genes happened both ways, including neanderthal men with homo sapiens women.

IIRC the genetics (so far) show Neanderthal genes only on the human X chromosome, not Y, so the only mating on record was between Neanderthal women and homo sapiens men. (Perhaps pairing the other way was problematic, e.g. infertile offspring, who knows?)
posted by kprincehouse at 7:14 PM on July 19, 2011


Probably the greatest crime in human history to this point was the extermination of the Neandertals.

Hmmm, I would question your use of the terms "greatest", "crime", "human", "history" and "extermination" in that sentence.
posted by smoke at 7:14 PM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


But the big difference is that mules can't have more mules, right?

Usually but not always.


Just in case you're saying that mules can sometimes have more mules, my response is no, they can't.

Female mules are sometimes fertile, but male mules are always infertile. So no possible reproductive success.

Just trying to keep Metafilter science at it's usual exceptional level of discourse.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:37 PM on July 19, 2011


their much larger and stronger physique must have been a fearsome sight to early humans, and I wonder how their encounters might have played out, now we found evidence of interbreeding.

The various quasi-species of humans around during that time of just-barely-almost-pre-history makes me imagine that the various mythical creatures (Amazon Women! Hobbits! Fairies! Etc!) aren't just really old oral history that has survived. I mean, we have pretty intact-ish stories from 5000 years ago, why not little cultural snippets from 30,000 years ago?

(It is weird to look at the various homo- skulls and realize how much some of them look like people. I think I went to High School with this guy.)
posted by gjc at 7:39 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


What does "sub-Saharan" mean, in this context? Specifically, I'm interested in stuff like modern Ethiopia. It is "sub-Saharan" in that it's south of the Sahara, but wasn't there fairly widespread contact between people in that area and people in nearby non-sub-Saharan regions, such as the Levant, Arabia, and Egypt, going back pretty much as far as we can tell?

So it would be pretty surprising if there weren't enough intermingling to get the otherwise ubiquitous genes to Ethiopians, wouldn't it?
posted by Flunkie at 7:43 PM on July 19, 2011


Anthropologist here. This is pretty old news, but it and a more recent study have completely revolutionized our view of our closest relatives. Non-sub-Saharan Africans are part Neandertal and, crazily enough, Melanesians are part... something else. A new hominid, dubbed the Denisovan, was discovered in a cave in Siberia. Known only from a tooth and a few tiny bones, researchers nevertheless were able to sequence DNA from the sample. To their surprise, they found that Melanesians have a special relationship with these Denisovans, with an estimated 5% of their DNA being the result of their ancestors' interbreeding with what must have been a wide-spread European species. Oddly enough, the geneticists know more about this extinct species than the paleontologists do. Scientists are recognizing that hybridization is the norm in primate evolution, and these genomes have shown that the bushy hominid family tree is no exception.

I remember being worried when I first heard about the Denisovan study that racism towards aboriginal Australians would increase when the public found out that a portion of their genome was archaic in origin, but I suppose part-Neandertals have no legs to stand on. I found this book in a Harlem bookstore, years before the Neandertal genome and evidence of inbreeding were released, but I guess most people don't know the results of these recent revolutions in anthropology.
posted by bergeycm at 8:04 PM on July 19, 2011 [13 favorites]


racism towards aboriginal Australians

Why Australian aboriginals? Melanesians inhabit Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, and other islands north & northeast of Australia.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:30 PM on July 19, 2011


kprincehouse, the Neanderthal X chromosome could have been given by either father (XY) or mother (XX). If the father was a Neanderthal who passed on an X chromosome, the hybrid offspring would be a daughter (as the human mother could only pass on X).

Interesting to me also is that if 9% of the X chromosome comes from Neanderthals, then it would seem to me that modern human men would be more likely to express these genes? Because modern women, with 2 X chromosomes, would have more chances to have the sub-Saharan version on one, if not the other, of their X chromosomes.

Also, you really shouldn't miss the funniest fiction about Neanderthals, Italo Calvino's Interview with a Neanderthal.
posted by Schmucko at 8:55 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


what about the extermination of the halflings, the forced exile of the elves, the undergroundation of the dwarves, the woodchippering of the ents and the scholarshipization of the orcs to the ohio state football team, a fate worse than death?

Don't even get me started on the continued othering of The Others.
posted by Summer at 2:57 AM on July 20, 2011


Well if our ancestors bred with Neanderthals, doesn't that mean that they were not a different species after all? I thought one of the definitions of species included "a distinct group whose members could could only breed with each other".
Neanderthals are actually classified as a subtype of homo sapiens. And also
Interesting to me also is that if 9% of the X chromosome comes from Neanderthals, then it would seem to me that modern human men would be more likely to express these genes? Because modern women, with 2 X chromosomes, would have more chances to have the sub-Saharan version on one, if not the other, of their X chromosomes.
It depends on which gene is dominant.

Also, I feel like I should point this out, Razib Khan is actually -- or at least used to be – one of the advocates of scientific racism (mainly making the arguments that Africans are inferior) – which it's proponents call "Human Biodiversity" It sounds innocuous, but if you look at the "Human Biodiversity Institute" which is basically a think-tank for scientific racists headed by Steve Sailer. The links are harder to find these days but years ago it was easier. In 2003 he did say this:
Racist? God-that-I-don't-believe-in I'm tired of this crap. I've addressed these issues before. I believe in equality before the law. But, I believe different groups probably have different aptitudes (not moral inferiority or superiority)-and the axiom of equality-that all groups have the exact same tendencies as our common evolutionary heritage, could cause serious problems when applied to public policy.
Maybe he's become "respectable" since then, but if you look around he doesn't really try to deny it. It's not so much that he's out there saying hugely racist things, rather he slants his coverage of science in that direction, and seems to be closely related to guys like Steve Sailor and Charles Murray. He also said he agreed with James Watson's racist outburst a few years ago.
posted by delmoi at 6:21 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


The neanderthal culture - if that's the proper word - existed far longer than homo sapiens culture. If they had language, what stories, ideas, societies did they develop?

I wonder if small group sizes, lack of surplus energy, and a lack of a written language places hard limits on the complexity over time of a culture? I'd guess so.

Assuming that Neanderthals are human, I think we have a duty to that humanity to share it again. Carl Sagan was hoping for aliens in the wrong place, we don't want to find interstellar aliens anyway. Imagine the contributions another radically different way of thinking could give us?

I'm often thankful that there is no measurable difference in general intelligence (whatever that ends up being) between "races" of humans. There is no hard rule that means that this *must* be true, it just happens to be so. Imagine a world where one ethnic group really was only 70% as intelligent as the others. That group would be a permanent underclass, but smart enough to understand what that meant.

Of course we don't know how intelligent Neanderthals were, but if that they were 70-80% as smart as H. sap?

IIRC the genetics (so far) show Neanderthal genes only on the human X chromosome, not Y, so the only mating on record was between Neanderthal women and homo sapiens men. (Perhaps pairing the other way was problematic, e.g. infertile offspring, who knows?)

The Y chromosome is also much smaller, it might be harder to get good data from it.
posted by atrazine at 7:35 AM on July 20, 2011


The neanderthal culture - if that's the proper word - existed far longer than homo sapiens culture. If they had language, what stories, ideas, societies did they develop?
What's "culture" here? Neanderthals and modern humans existed and used tools for long overlapping time spans. Humans and Neanderthals both had 'culture' at the same time. Modern humans have been around for hundreds of thousands of years, and Neanderthals only died out 30k years ago.
posted by delmoi at 7:41 AM on July 20, 2011


> What's "culture" here?

That's what they were asking. Since they presumably only had an oral culture, whatever mythology (however rudimentary or involved) and history their storytellers (again, assuming they had them) passed down is not traceable.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 7:58 AM on July 20, 2011


I should have expressed myself better. The neanderthals could probably speak according to the links, and since they have existed for hundreds of thousands of years it takes some thinking to understand what this really means. Imagine the timespan: when we are talking hundreds of thousands of years this means that no single language could have survived (compare to the constant change of languages that is known from written history): several languages must have developed, died out, being replaced by others. If they had mythologies, worldviews, etc - the case would have been the same.

This might be old news to you, but not to me. The idea of a different (sub)species, existing next to us for hundreds of thousands of years, developing languages, perhaps mythologies, is fascinating. And to get this into perspective it interested me to compare the timespans with the short known/written history of homo sapiens (a couple of thousands of years; our own languages, religions, etc have of course existed much longer as well).
posted by Termite at 8:39 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


> This might be old news to you, but not to me.

No, I find it interesting as well. The biblical flood story is most likely retold from older Sumerian stories. Perhaps those were retold from even older ones. And, perhaps at some point some stories or even just gestural notions about interacting with the world were co-opted from the Neanderthal people.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:43 AM on July 20, 2011


Kadin2048: I am admittedly cynical, but I suspect that "nasty, brutish, and short" would adequately describe sex in the pre-modern period (and, to be honest, much of the modern as well; the view of rape as predominantly a property crime is one that has not been completely extinguished, and doesn't seem especially compatible with any reasonable conception of 'consent'.)

Someone really needs to read Sex at Dawn.
posted by shponglespore at 9:50 AM on July 20, 2011


The Neanderthal legacy: an archaeological perspective from western Europe By Paul Mellars

"was there gene flow from modern humans into Neanderthal?"

- "Neanderthal Code"

"Evidence from the Gibraltar caves shows that they possessed all four complex behaviors thought characteristic of modern humans: broad use of land resources, sea fishing and hunting, (3) use of small scale resources, and (4) scheduling resource use by the seasons. This revelation came with some emotion. That modern human subsistence behaviors would show up among archaic humans like Neanderthals, even as late as ~28,000 B.P., she remarked, is startling. What does it mean? Basically, it means the anthropologists have been wrong about our brethren all along."

emphasis mine.

choice quote: "now, nobody knows if the process was warlike and catastrophic"

I think we have a pretty good guess. :D
posted by mrgrimm at 4:27 PM on July 20, 2011


ScienceDaily (July 28, 2011) — New research sheds light on why, after 300,000 years of domination, European Neanderthals abruptly disappeared. Researchers from the University of Cambridge have discovered that modern humans coming from Africa swarmed the region, arriving with over ten times the population as the Neanderthal inhabitants. ...

posted by jamjam at 4:41 PM on July 29, 2011


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