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September 22, 2008 12:04 PM   Subscribe

Meet Wilma, the first model of a Neanderthal based in part on ancient DNA evidence. The findings indicate that at least some Neanderthals had red hair, pale skin, and even freckles, adding to the relatively recent evidence that Neanderthals did not interbreed with humans (previously), might have been outbred into extinction by Homo sapiens, and were probably not as stupid as we thought.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing (82 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great post, I just hope no one says "NILF".
posted by Mister_A at 12:06 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


She's kinda a big-boned gal, ain't she? I thought early people would be more -- I dunno -- wirey?
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 12:07 PM on September 22, 2008


oops
posted by Mister_A at 12:07 PM on September 22, 2008




When asked about the missing necklace that had once adorned Wilma's neck,
researchers claimed to be at a loss for comment.
posted by Smart Dalek at 12:14 PM on September 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


I realized Neanderthals had thicker bones than humans, but not enough to account for how fat they made this hunter gatherer. Maybe the nudity requires a warming layer of fat? Have humans evolved into their clothes? Even if so, they also show her wearing furs (which seems necessary in Europe). What's the average body fat percentage of large carnivores?

...some Neanderthals had red hair, pale skin, and even freckles, adding to the relatively recent evidence that Neanderthals did not interbreed with humans...

Because no known humans have red hair, pale skin or freckles? On reading both articles and then this post again, I guess I see what you are saying. We have found out a) that they have red hair, etc and b) they did not interbreed with humans. Two unrelated facts both based on DNA.
posted by DU at 12:15 PM on September 22, 2008


She's kinda a big-boned gal, ain't she?

Betty was always the hot one.
posted by rokusan at 12:16 PM on September 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


"Now that is one neanderthal I'd like to -"
"Hey hey hey, have some respect will ya? They prefer to be called 'early people'."
posted by mannequito at 12:17 PM on September 22, 2008


The proportions of Neanderthal bodies resemble those of modern Inuit, an Arctic people who must similarly cope with a cold climate.

Huh.
posted by DU at 12:18 PM on September 22, 2008


Also: I like how the first comments, including mine, on a reconstruction of a long dead Neanderthal female are about sex and appearance.
posted by DU at 12:20 PM on September 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


She reminds me of drunk Nick Nolte.
posted by graventy at 12:24 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Because no known humans have red hair, pale skin or freckles?

Thus confirming everything I've suspected about the Welsh.
posted by Artw at 12:26 PM on September 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


I've always been fascinated by the neanderthals, and have wondered, after hearing about the newer evidence that they did not interbreed with homo sapiens, whether they represented a second instance of intelligent, self-aware, tool-using, etc., beings evolving somewhere in the known universe, which would seem to make the likelihood of other such instances more likely? In other words, if once and only once did evolution result in - well - creatures "like us", it might be very, very unlikely that it could have happened at any other time or in any other place, but if it happened here twice, maybe we're not that special after all?
posted by yhbc at 12:27 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why do I think this "Neanderthal girl" would've kicked every MeFi guy's ass?

"Hey baby, you're kinda big-boned, aren't cha? Hey, chill out ... I was only having some lulz. Hey, whatcha doin' with that rock?"

"WILMA SMASH!"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:28 PM on September 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


Scientists have also reconstructed a likely meeting between early homo Sapiens and the small, and dwindling, population of European Neanderthals.

Ogg: Ugh. Neanderthal Wilma fat fatty.

Ug: Ug not hit it.

Ogg: Ogg not hit it with Ug dick, dude.

Wilma: Boyzone.
posted by rusty at 12:28 PM on September 22, 2008 [10 favorites]


Surely "Ug not hit it with club and drag it away by hair"?

CAVEMANZONE
posted by Artw at 12:32 PM on September 22, 2008


NILF?
posted by jamstigator at 12:35 PM on September 22, 2008


Yabba dabba don't even try it, mister.
posted by not_on_display at 12:35 PM on September 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


She looks just like the woman who cleans our building. A very good, sensitive person.
posted by pracowity at 12:41 PM on September 22, 2008


Kidding aside, I really believed that the 'tals were just assimilated into our genome, and that there was a little caveman in each of us. It is possible that no fertile offspring were produced from unions between Cro-mags and 'tals, I suppose. But I am almost certain that cro-mags and 'tals had inter-species sex, and that this situation has been explored photographically per rule 34.
posted by Mister_A at 12:42 PM on September 22, 2008


Neanderthal bodies resemble those of modern Inuit, an Arctic people

Wait, wait, I think I'm getting it...

Neanderthal == Inuit == Alaska == Sarah Palin

Ergo, Neanderthals == Sarah Palin! Will the smears never cease!
posted by GuyZero at 12:42 PM on September 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


DU: If it were a Neanderthal man, I'd would have said the same thing. I thought hunter-gatherers were always on the move, and perhaps barely on the edge of starvation.

Signed,

Psho (Mrs.)
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 12:44 PM on September 22, 2008


Maybe the fat is a seasonal thing. I really don't know. She is rather Rubenesque though.
posted by Mister_A at 12:49 PM on September 22, 2008


Neanderthal == Inuit == Alaska == Sarah Palin

If you want to link Sarah Palin and Neanderthals, you can do it in fewer links than this.
posted by DU at 12:50 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


In other neolithic news: Stonehenge was 'Lourdes of prehistoric Europe', claim archaelogists
posted by Artw at 12:51 PM on September 22, 2008


I saw a comment saying "How about Neanderthal Man??? Gordon Brown!!!" and thought 'that's pretty stupid' and then I realised to my horror I was reading the Daily "Hurrah for the Blackshirts" Mail.

I didn't read the copy, so presumably they were using Wilma as an example of proud upright Neanderthal Mail-readers being victimised by illegal Homo Sapiens immigrants and elitist European bureaucrats using foreign muck like 'fire'.
posted by athenian at 1:04 PM on September 22, 2008


Everyone's saying she's fat - have you people seen modern American homo sapiens sapiens?
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 1:06 PM on September 22, 2008


Lourdes of prehistoric Europe
The later charcoal deposits are not the oak or birch of domestic hearths, but midwinter greenery, like holly, ivy and yew - suggesting to Darvill and Wainwright annual gatherings, perhaps for feasting and ceremony at the winter solstice, continuing as late as the 17th century. The modern day druids and pagans who assemble bearing green boughs for the winter and summer solstices, much mocked for inventing supposedly ancient rituals, may not be so far off the mark after all.
Are pagans and druids much mocked in Britain? I was under the impression they were at least tolerated for heritage reasons, and seemed like perfectly normal people in comparison to the Jedi Party.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:08 PM on September 22, 2008


OMG, who did Wilma's highlights?
Those are like, so 43,000 years ago!
posted by rmless at 1:08 PM on September 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


Huh - I had a grade school teacher that looked just like that. I knew she was old, but I didn't know she was that old.
posted by jlowen at 1:11 PM on September 22, 2008


It makes me sad to think of them, huddled together on thew Iberian pennisula for warmth and safety, awaiting the blows and cannibalism that will signal, not just their own ends, but the end of their species. I imagine them shivering and clasping hands, and one, on occasion, rising, lifting the sharp beak of a bird, setting down a new granite platter, and replacing the bird's beak, and the returning to the group as a new song comes on.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:12 PM on September 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


Wilma was commissioned by National Geographic to illustrate the magazine article.

Well, that's admirable; they're not simply exploiting Neanderthals but giving them work as well.
posted by languagehat at 1:15 PM on September 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


Wilma was commissioned by National Geographic to illustrate the magazine article.

Well, that's admirable; they're not simply exploiting Neanderthals but giving them work as well.


What's even odder is that they felt she needed to be an officer; I'm sure she would have done an equally good job as an enlisted Neanderthal.
posted by GuyZero at 1:19 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Kidding aside, I really believed that the 'tals were just assimilated into our genome, and that there was a little caveman in each of us."

I was under the impression that the odds of one of our ancestors actually encountering a neanderthal were about nil - given the range and relevant time frames.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 1:28 PM on September 22, 2008


Viral for the new Flintstones movie. It's going to be just like The Dark Knight.
posted by roll truck roll at 1:30 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


The findings indicate that at least some Neanderthals had red hair, pale skin, and even freckles

Thus confirming my and Cromwell's theories about the Irish!
posted by atrazine at 1:32 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: maybe we're not that special after all?
posted by HuronBob at 1:33 PM on September 22, 2008


Humans are just a skipped meal or two away from cannibalism, no matter how "evolved" we think ourselves to be.
posted by tommasz at 1:36 PM on September 22, 2008


Regarding interbreeding, I was always partial to the theory that you could postulate behavioral differences that would explain the lack of evidence for interbreeding. I.e., perhaps they simply didn't perceive one another as potential mates. If there was only ever a very small amount, it could easily get drowned out in the noise of all human populations since that time.

Ian Macleod had an interesting alternate-history take on this in his recent story "The Hob Carpet", which envisions a world inhabited by a high-culture of "anatomically modern" humans that is fundamentally dependent upon neanderthal slaves. (Partial version here, text purchasable here.) The relevant bit comes near the end, as the narrator sees a Neanderthal "hob" woman give birth to an apparent half-breed child, and saves it from being killed as defective (scrawny, weak, and wrongly-colored).
posted by lodurr at 1:39 PM on September 22, 2008


She was a great cook and all, but man the sex was angry....
posted by The Power Nap at 1:39 PM on September 22, 2008


Humans are just a skipped meal or two away from cannibalism

I'm pretty sure I could go even up to a full day without eating my fellow humans.
posted by DU at 1:48 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


What's even odder is that they felt she needed to be an officer; I'm sure she would have done an equally good job as an enlisted Neanderthal.

Why oh why is there no flag for "that one hurt, please don't do that again"?
posted by lodurr at 1:50 PM on September 22, 2008


Hey, we should all remember to call them "Caveman-Americans," not "trogs" or "'tals" or "republicans."
posted by Mister_A at 1:54 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Surely "Ug not hit it with club and drag it away by hair"?

Ip Gissa Gul
posted by dhartung at 1:56 PM on September 22, 2008


Are pagans and druids much mocked in Britain?

Dude, we will totally mock anything.

Also much of that stuff was made up in the 19th century by preening aristocratic types anyway.
posted by Artw at 2:01 PM on September 22, 2008


I married the girl with hairy legs and no make-up, and I'm extremely happy.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:03 PM on September 22, 2008


Neanderthal heads—and therefore brains—were already known to be larger than those of modern humans.

This makes me sad ... it is sort of like VHS winning over Beta ... dos winning over Mac ...

AND the Neanderthals didn't seem to know how to seize the 'overpopulation advantage' -- pumping out babies by the bundle.

What does THAT say about the future of homo sapiens?!
posted by Surfurrus at 2:12 PM on September 22, 2008


Europe's First Top Model?
posted by Kabanos at 2:17 PM on September 22, 2008


I'm surprised by others' surprise at her, um, robustness. I mean, we've all seen roly-poly bears and squirrels and such, and, presumably, a proto-human would be a better hunter/gatherer than either of those species (and quite a few others).
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:22 PM on September 22, 2008


Metafilter: Probably not as stupid as we thought.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:41 PM on September 22, 2008


"I thought hunter-gatherers were always on the move, and perhaps barely on the edge of starvation."

The Original Affluent Society
At the time of the symposium new research by anthropologists, such as Richard B. Lee’s work on the !Kung of southern Africa, was challenging popular notions that hunter-gatherer societies were always near the brink of starvation and continuously engaged in a struggle for survival. Sahlins gathered the data from these studies and used it to support a comprehensive argument that states that hunter-gatherers did not suffer from deprivation, but instead lived in a society in which "all the people’s wants are easily satisfied".
(That Wiki page includes at the bottom a link to Sahlins' paper.)
posted by aihal at 2:42 PM on September 22, 2008


Well, except it was the end of the line for these proto-humans. We still see squirels today, and the ones in my garden are roly-poly because THEY ARE STEALING MY TOMATOES! And bears are fond of the picnic baskets.

Neanderthal ladies, I've not run into so much.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 2:44 PM on September 22, 2008


I swear she used to be the dinner lady at my school.
posted by ob at 3:03 PM on September 22, 2008


A body used to periods of starvation will often hold onto more fat than not.
posted by Hildegarde at 3:43 PM on September 22, 2008


Snu Snu

“I was always partial to the theory that you could postulate behavioral differences that would explain the lack of evidence for interbreeding. I.e., perhaps they simply didn't perceive one another as potential mates”

I’d think it’d be a little weird to have an entirely different species walking around that was nearly as intelligent as we are and, as such, a potential threat.
Chimps are no big deal because they’re not much competition for resources. But if they start putting on clothes and brandishing firearams, we’d be a little freaked out.
I don’t think humans would stand for it. It’d be too eerie. (Look at it - it knows we’re talking about it) I suspect we’d kill all of them. Which, may be what happened.

I remember watching a nature history show about the sabre toothed tiger. Early humans hunted the same game. My first thought at looking at the jaws though were how nice a tool one of those fangs would make for dressing out an animal.
I can’t imagine I’d’ve been alone in that thought.
Sure, we’re soft, furless, weak and our teeth are dull. Hell, the neanderthals might even have been smarter than us.
But we’re not a species to be in competition with or on the wrong side of. For good or for ill. (Sorry all you extinct animals. Stay cute the rest of you or we’ll start wondering how you taste)
posted by Smedleyman at 3:44 PM on September 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


Viral for the new Flintstones movie. It's going to be just like The Dark Knight.

Fred's a bitter laid-off worker with a bad cactus juice habit, Bamm-Bamm's running with the Bedrock Bloods and clubbing pedestrians, that kinda thing?
posted by jonmc at 4:18 PM on September 22, 2008


Jean Auel lied to me about the hunting thing? This changes everything.
posted by padraigin at 4:31 PM on September 22, 2008


From what I've read, Neanderthal toolmaking sort of plateaued at a certain point, while human tools continued to evolve in complexity. Basically, every hominid before humans had very slow technological development, while we just managed to take off, innovation-wise. Many people speculate that this development may have coincided with the evolution of complex language, which it's likely Neanderthals weren't capable of (though they may have had some form of language).
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:49 PM on September 22, 2008


Jean Auel lied to me about the hunting thing? This changes everything.

Oh noes - If she's wrong on that what else was she wrong on? Those books were considered very important schoolyard documents when I was a kid.
posted by Artw at 4:52 PM on September 22, 2008


Jean Auel lied to me about the hunting thing? This changes everything.

Neanderthal chicks weren't as hot as Daryl Hannah either. Sorry you had to find out this way, dude.
posted by jonmc at 4:54 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


I love that they decided to model a woman, for once. I've always wanted to see a "Ascent of Woman" progression, rather than the typical Ascent of Man -- although, of course, it's a dated paradigm anyway.

I think a lot about prehistoric man. My latest theory, completely untestable, is that Homo sapiens didn't realize that Neanderthals were fundamentally different from them, in a way that rival human tribes were not. I'd bet early humans hated, or at least Othered, everybody outside of the tribe/deme/region to such an extent that the fine anatomical details of Neanderthal difference may well have been lost on them. Human xenophobia has always been intense, and we're just getting a grasp on the concept of all of us being the same species. Whatever killed the Neanderthals, I don't think it was deliberate on our part.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:12 PM on September 22, 2008


Daryl Hannah played Ayla, a hot Cro-Magnon woman who was raised by Neanderthals. She single-handedly invented the hunting sling, horseback riding, lion-taming, herbal medicine, and in one of the later books, made a rubik's cube out of antler and rabbit tendons. She became the mate of Jondalar, who perfected the giant penis.
posted by longsleeves at 5:12 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, I'm a girl.

Which I would have thought was obvious just from the reference, as I would never have thought that anyone but girls read Clan of the Cave Bear. I thought it was like the Mists of Avalon for the prehistoric age.
posted by padraigin at 5:20 PM on September 22, 2008


Couple of things.

First, Neanderthal cranial capacity was, in fact, about the same as modern H. sapiens. Some skulls measure a little larger, some skulls a little smaller, but overall their brains were about the same size as ours. H. neanderthalensis bodies, on the other hand, were much more robust than ours, so their overall encephalization quotient was lower than modern humans. Given that Neanderthals basically used the same stone tool set for the few hundred thousand years of their lifespan and that the mere existence of Neanderthal "art" is controversial, it's fairly safe to say that they either weren't as smart as humans, or thought in a completely alien way.

Hey, As long as were talking about Neanderthals being "big-boned," an individual's bones can give clues to how muscular they were, and even how they used they used those muscles, but reconstructing the softer, squisher bits is less precise. More than likely the team that built Wilma used the muscle markings and the general skeletal architecture for the base and then made some inferences about how a primitive hunter-gatherer living in near arctic conditions who'd had a few babies might look like. Plus, given the Neanderthal skeleton was put together, they didn't have much of what we would call a waist. So, despite your Neander-lust fantasies, not all of them were built like Darryl Hannah or Xena.

Speaking of hot, lice-ridden H. sapiens on H. neanderthalensis sex, despite years of genetic and morphological research, no one has ever conclusively found evidence of hybridization. While Erik Trinkaus (possibly the biggest supporter of interbreeding) has claimed to have found a juvenile exhibiting both Neanderthal and Human features, virtually everyone else has either disagreed or found the evidence inconclusive. Trinkaus may just be seeing what he wants to see, since the paucity of juvenile Neanderthal remains means that we know virtually nothing about Neanderthal ontogeny. However, the genetic evidence suggests that H. neanderthalensis and H. sapiens split about 500K years ago, so while the probability of interspecies sex may be plausible, offspring -- especially fertile offspring -- is pretty low.

Still, humans and neanderthals interacted at a number of times and places, so maybe that kept the gene pools mixed. Although the 40K years since the neanderthals died out would have diluted their genes so much that they'd be hard to pinpoint in all the rest of the genetic noise we all carry around.

You can trust me, I'm an anthropologist.
posted by Panjandrum at 5:22 PM on September 22, 2008 [6 favorites]


Daryl Hannah played Ayla, a hot Cro-Magnon woman who was raised by Neanderthals.

Those damn Cro-Magnon's. They move into a nice Neanderthal neighborhood and mess everything up walking around all upright and using tools..and the language! they actually use language!
posted by jonmc at 5:22 PM on September 22, 2008 [3 favorites]




Yeah, but Wilma was the homely one. Who would have predicted the range of physical variation in the ironically-placed celebrity pregnancy pictures on the lower right of the dailymail.co.uk link?
posted by sneebler at 6:57 PM on September 22, 2008


The thing that you have to remember is that during the Pleistocene there were very few gyms or personal trainers, and even fewer plastic surgeons. (This, plus the fact that speed dating had yet to be invented, is probably what ultimately led to the extinction of the Neanderthals as the females were simply not thin enough, nor their breasts big enough, to breed with). Also, at the time she was cannibalized, Wilma didn't realize that she was going to be FPP material a few thousand years later, or she presumably would have put down the mammoth haunch and visited the salad bar more often.
posted by taz at 8:47 PM on September 22, 2008


Thank you, Marisa Stole the Precious Thing - excellent post.

And thanks also to you, Panjandrum - you rescued the excellence of it (for me, at least).

Brilliant to see the Neanderthal woman for a change, as Countess Elena said.
posted by batmonkey at 11:37 PM on September 22, 2008


Whatever. I still think they took a few liberties with the poundage. Rest assure I have no lustful feelings for prehistoric females of any stripe, and certainly none for Darryl Hannah, whom I ran into at a restaurant in Berkeley circa "At Play in the Fields of the Lord."

As my boss and dining companion noted, "Makeup does wonders."
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 11:50 PM on September 22, 2008


padraigin : ...as I would never have thought that anyone but girls read Clan of the Cave Bear.

It was sexually explicit and in the school library, and you didn't think boys read it?

So what are the other ways in which teenage boys on your planet differ from the ones on mine?
posted by rodgerd at 3:02 AM on September 23, 2008


many thanks for this, Marisa - great post!

thanks also to Panjandrum for the extra info

(depressing, though, to see which comment in this thread has received the most favorites - but at least it means that Jessamyn won't have to change her name yet)
posted by jammy at 4:53 AM on September 23, 2008


Neanderthals weren't as stupid as we thought they were? The article doesn't deal with the real issue at hand: How am I going to insult others now?
posted by Xere at 5:40 AM on September 23, 2008


So what are the other ways in which teenage boys on your planet differ from the ones on mine?

I'd conjecture that on her planet (as on mine), most boys were sufficiently concerned with Not Appearing Gay that they'd tend to avoid being seen READING A BOOK, much less being seen reading a book ABOUT A GIRL. And a FANTASY book about a girl? Hoo, boy.

Seriously, though, ask any librarian who has collections responsibilities that include kids up through HS. They'll tell you that there's some serious and pretty clear gender-selection that goes on, regardless of the sexual content. Boys will typically give very very strong preference to books with male protagonists, whereas girls will read books with either male or female protagonists. (Which makes perfect sense: The marked group has the luxury of reading marked and unmarked texts, whereas the unmarked group has to keep free of the mark by never touching the marked texts.)
posted by lodurr at 6:15 AM on September 23, 2008


Apparently, Neanderthals also had a more varied diet than we previously believed.
posted by onhazier at 6:22 AM on September 23, 2008


Yeah, it's a late reply, but:

"Hey hey hey, have some respect will ya? They prefer to be called 'early people'."

I think the preferred term is "People who are early"
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 6:33 AM on September 23, 2008


We were all about the "it has sex in". We, um, pretty much read all the Pern books for more or less the same reason, and by comparison those had NOTHING.
posted by Artw at 6:48 AM on September 23, 2008


Artw: An old buddy of mine told me that when he was in military school, they did the same thing with the Old Testament. There's some seriously graphic shit in there....and I'll happily fave anyone who can interestingly link this back to the topic of Wilma the Neanderthal...
posted by lodurr at 10:00 AM on September 23, 2008


I bet it has nothing on Shaun Hutson's assassin, which was deemed The Greatest Story of All Time due to it's zombie BJ with maggots scene.
posted by Artw at 10:04 AM on September 23, 2008


Mister_A: "Hey, we should all remember to call them "Caveman-Americans," not "trogs" or "'tals" or "republicans.""

We prefer "people of cave", actually.
posted by scalefree at 10:15 AM on September 23, 2008


The Olympics, 100,004 BCE:

One hunter from each clan
+ Pile of flint nodules
+ Pile of broken branches

Last 'Thal standing wins (and eats).
posted by cenoxo at 9:00 PM on September 23, 2008


From the comments on the first link:

I would like to know where they got the "43,000" years... the earth isn't that old, carbon dating is a load of rubbish.

- Sarah, Scranton, OH, 23/9/2008 17:01


Neanderthals were probably not as stupid as we thought, but unfortunately humans are more so.
posted by orange swan at 7:14 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


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