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Sequencing of the Neandertal genome completed
May 6, 2010 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Neandertals are the closest ancestral relatives to modern humans. Today, Nature published a special report on the Neandertal genome, for which a draft sequencing of three billion nucleotides has been completed. This high-throughput sequencing project shows how the genetic relationship between Neandertals and modern Europeans and Asians suggests localized interbreeding between the two species roughly 40-80,000 years ago, complicating the common "out-of-Africa" story of how modern humans originated. Additional research extends this low-coverage, first-pass sequencing with a microarray approach that uncovers specific differences between the human and Neandertal genomes.
posted by Blazecock Pileon (75 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, so you're going with the "no h in neanderthal" spelling. Just gotta start a fight, do you?

Grog, get him.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:43 PM on May 6, 2010 [10 favorites]


Cool, I remember growing up hearing "No Homo Sapian And Neandertal never interbred nope nada never" and now it's "well, one time at a party I was drunk and she was makin' me a flower garland to commemorate the dead and one thing led to another..."
posted by The Whelk at 12:43 PM on May 6, 2010 [26 favorites]


Cool. I'm on a big books-about-DNA reading kick at the moment, I'll have to dig through these in further detail. That + a membership to ancestry.com showing me I have a distant ancestor named Ivar Vikingsson (hardcore! metal! ancestors!) = awesome.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:45 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, so you're going with the "no h in neanderthal" spelling. Just gotta start a fight, do you?

It's just Cockney for h-dropping science.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:46 PM on May 6, 2010


Based on comparative genomic data, as well as a mathematical model of gene flow, the authors further estimate that between 1 and 4% of the genomes of people in Eurasia may be derived from Neandertals.

Well, that solves the Bulgarian weightlifting mystery.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:49 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


So Clan of the Cave Bear was pretty much spot-on?
posted by gregjones at 12:54 PM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


well, one time at a party I was drunk and she was makin' me a flower garland to commemorate the dead and one thing led to another...

Hey, some guys are into women with simian brow ridges.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:58 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd hit it.

With my stone tool, amirite??
posted by swift at 12:59 PM on May 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


I thought everyone already knew that we have Cylon ancestors.
posted by Copronymus at 1:10 PM on May 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


I seem to remember that one of the big arguments used to be over why there wasn't a lot more morphological evidence of interbreeding. I really liked the idea that Neanderthals & moderns might simply not view one another as appropriate mating subjects.

(Which could still be true. Given the radically smaller population of the time, it might have only taken a few isolated case to produce this modern result.)

Anyway, i find it wildly cool that this kind of extrapolation is possible, and also find it somehow satisfying to believe that some small legacy carries forward from the Neanderthals.

Looking forward to further thread contributions from people who keep up with this much better than I do...
posted by lodurr at 1:13 PM on May 6, 2010


also, nitfilter: this demonstrates neanderthal DNS coming into "modern" communities, not vice-versa. So Clan of the Cave Bear is still horrific claptrap.
posted by lodurr at 1:14 PM on May 6, 2010


I really liked the idea that Neanderthals & moderns might simply not view one another as appropriate mating subjects.

Hell, would you sleep with a republican?
posted by Pollomacho at 1:15 PM on May 6, 2010 [8 favorites]


...neanderthal DNS...

...plus, betcha didn't know neanderthals invented the internet, did you?
posted by lodurr at 1:15 PM on May 6, 2010


What I want to know is when they got TCP/IP.
posted by swift at 1:15 PM on May 6, 2010


Whoa, weird. My husband and I were just talking last night about how that period of time, during which Neanderthal and modern humans coexisted, is pretty much the coolest period in human history.

How long until somebody tries to make a Neanderthal in a lab? Not long, I'll bet. How messed up would it be to be created from a test tube and have enough intelligence to understand that your entire species died out tens of thousands of years ago?
posted by something something at 1:15 PM on May 6, 2010


So Clan of the Cave Bear was pretty much spot-on?

Yes. And everyone looked just as hot as Darryl Hannah. Hotter, even.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:17 PM on May 6, 2010


Cylons, Golgafrinchans, same thing.
posted by gracedissolved at 1:17 PM on May 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


So Clan of the Cave Bear was pretty much spot-on?

I was thinking more like Quest for Fire, although that one appears to portray two different levels of Neanderthals beneath the Homo Sapiens. Still, there was crossbreeding.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:21 PM on May 6, 2010


(oops, reading further it would seem that Quest for Fire features Homo Erectus, Neanderthal, and Homo Sapiens)
posted by Burhanistan at 1:28 PM on May 6, 2010


Where d'ye think I got me bandy legs, barrel chest, and hairy back from?
posted by Mister_A at 1:29 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dear scientists, please change the name of these things:

Homo erectus
Uranus

TIA!
posted by Mister_A at 1:30 PM on May 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


...ancestry.com showing me I have a distant ancestor named Ivar Vikingsson (hardcore! metal! ancestors!)

I'm sending a case of umlauts to your house. Enjoy.
posted by rokusan at 1:31 PM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is great news! Thanks for posting it!


Now all we need is Neanderthal Park...
posted by zarq at 1:32 PM on May 6, 2010


Where d'ye think I got me bandy legs, barrel chest, and hairy back from?

Pirate Depot?
posted by rokusan at 1:32 PM on May 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


Thanks, rokusan! I'm almost out of the ones I got when I was a German major!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:34 PM on May 6, 2010


From John Hawks' site, "NEANDERTALS LIVE!"
posted by msjen at 1:39 PM on May 6, 2010


I really liked the idea that Neanderthals & moderns might simply not view one another as appropriate mating subjects.

Considering all the things and animals people screw (literally) with, I'd honestly not ask did we have sex with Neanderthals, but just how much sex with Neanderthals did we have?

Hell, it seems the entire human history is just one long endeavor to see how many things we can either insert into our bodies, or stick parts of our bodies into.
posted by edgeways at 1:43 PM on May 6, 2010


Hell, it seems the entire human history is just one long endeavor to see how many things we can either insert into our bodies, or stick parts of our bodies into.

This is also known as the Jim Rose Theorem.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:44 PM on May 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


I really liked the idea that Neanderthals & moderns might simply not view one another as appropriate mating subjects.


Yah I always thought it was "they couldn't interbreed, or they could but the children would be sterile" cause if history teaches us anything it's that if it exists a human being will try to have sex with it eventually.
posted by The Whelk at 1:48 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


i hope you don't think that behavior is limited to humans. if you do, you should spend some time observing our [fixed] male cat....
posted by lodurr at 1:55 PM on May 6, 2010


I liked this quote from the Guardian:
Ed Green, a senior author on the study at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said: "How these peoples would have interacted culturally is not something we can speculate on in any meaningful way. But knowing that there was gene flow is important, and it is fascinating to think about how that may have happened."
I think we know waaaay too much about senior author Ed Green's fantasy life now.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:10 PM on May 6, 2010


... anyway, i think the kind of screwing you're all talking about is dominance behavior. You get that when you've got something in a position to dominate it. The point of what I used to sometimes call the "ships in the night" hypothesis was that not only might the breeding behaviors be totally different, behaviors in general might be different enough that they wouldn't recognize one another as humans. Shit, people in different tribes have that problem in the modern world. As a result, you wouldn't have neanderthals or moderns in positions where they'd get a chance to be dominated through screwing.

OTOH, as i sit here I think about the fact that in the American southwest, it used to be not-uncommon to find mixed herds of mustangs and burros. And coyotes apparently interbreed with domestic dogs almost as often as they eat them (which is a lot) -- the coyote genome is now apparently widely contaminated with dog DNA.

Then I start thinking about hostage-taking and related forms of "slavery". If there were conflicts between bands -- and they could be perfectly mundane stuff like inter-village raiding, none of the old "Neanderthal Genocide" scenarios needed -- there would likely be hostages taken over whom dominance would be exercised. So, yes, breeding. [aside on this: see Ian Macleod's wonderful and highly disturbing novella The Hob Carpet for an alt.history political-morality-tale take on this.]

One thing I'm really eager to know is just how much interbreeding can be extrapolated. Because as I sit here, I wonder if this figure is actually kind of too low to support lots of concurrent occupation. I'd like to see a comparison with the degree of interbreeding that goes on between very culturally-different but contiguous modern human populations.
posted by lodurr at 2:11 PM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm going to go ahead and take umbrage with the post's assertion that this complicates the Out-of-Africa model. If anything it firms up the model. The authors in the second link imply this when they say "...the role of Neandertals in the genetic ancestry of humans outside of Africa was likely relatively minor given that only a few percent of the genomes of present-day people outside of Africa appear to be derived from Neandertals." A population of H. sapiens migrating out of Africa and then displacing H. neanderthalensis (whilst having a wee bit of hot hot cave sex) is perfectly compatible the OoA model. So can we stop talking about the Multiregional hypothesis already? It is, and always was, bunkum.

Oh, and that fapping noise you hear? That's Eric Trinkaus spending some "quality time" with the Lapedo Child.
posted by Panjandrum at 2:19 PM on May 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Hell, it seems the entire human history is just one long endeavor to see how many things we can either insert into our bodies, or stick parts of our bodies into.

Speaking as a female member of the human race, somehow I cannot relate to this observation.
posted by bearwife at 2:25 PM on May 6, 2010


Bwahahahaha... Men have intercourse with other species than human all the time (and women, but usually only if they're paid); it's SOOO easy to see that lonely night, too much fermented fruit, that flower garland...

It'd just be another fetish on the internet if full-on Neandert(h)al* people were still among us. Of course, they'd also be our slaves and/or on reservations. Blankets, anyone? ;-)

AskMeFi:
NameMyCaveManFilter: Help! My roommate's Neandert(h)als** accidentally bred, now I'm got one of my own! (more)


That said, and still laughing because I CALLED IT when I was in Anthropology classes in the early 90's, thank you for the post.

*Not getting into the debate.
**Asker isn't interested in the debate, either.
posted by _paegan_ at 2:38 PM on May 6, 2010


So Clan of the Cave Bear was pretty much spot-on?

Or The Neanderthal Parallax by Robert Sawyer.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 2:38 PM on May 6, 2010


Says the woman who married a bear ...
posted by kyrademon at 2:40 PM on May 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


I like to imagine this is because homo sapiens were really sexy to Neanderthals. All lithe, athletic, and quick footed. Capable of using an atlatl. So hot.
posted by TwelveTwo at 2:41 PM on May 6, 2010


Because as I sit here, I wonder if this figure is actually kind of too low to support lots of concurrent occupation.

That's what I thought too, but then, how many people are we talking about, and how much interaction? World population was much lower then; opportunities to mate might have been fewer, even more so if there were taboos against it.

Possibly fertility might be lower even if mating did take place? Or perhaps a fetus would be more predisposed to abnormalities, or even be difficult to birth?
posted by emjaybee at 2:44 PM on May 6, 2010


I like to imagine this is because homo sapiens were really sexy to Neanderthals.

Yup, we're talking Ron Perlman verus Rae Dawn Chong here.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:44 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm going to go ahead and take umbrage with the post's assertion that this complicates the Out-of-Africa model. If anything it firms up the model.

Poor wording, perhaps. I didn't mean to imply the model is wrong, but that having a measurable chunk of DNA coming from Neandertals means that some of our modern genetic constitution is not entirely from African ancestors.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:45 PM on May 6, 2010


having a measurable chunk of DNA coming from Neandertals means that some of our modern genetic constitution is not entirely from African ancestors.

As an avid racist*, I feel conflicted about this.






*not really
posted by Mister_A at 2:49 PM on May 6, 2010




it's SOOO easy to see that lonely night, too much fermented fruit, that flower garland...

"Had some mulled wine, pretty girl gave me a hat made out of a tree. Nobody said I was signing up to have and to hold."

I'll go now.
posted by cmyk at 2:56 PM on May 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


There's a little Elvis, and a little Neanderthal, in all of us.
posted by killdevil at 2:57 PM on May 6, 2010


Says the woman who married a bear ...

Not a Cave Bear, of course. Since he's a male Bear, he'd probably think the observation was spot on.
posted by bearwife at 2:58 PM on May 6, 2010


I like to imagine this is because homo sapiens were really sexy to Neanderthals. All lithe, athletic, and quick footed. Capable of using an atlatl. So hot.

And vice versa - some of us Homo Sap chicks dig the strong, silent type.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 3:04 PM on May 6, 2010


I like to imagine this is because homo sapiens were really sexy to Neanderthals. All lithe, athletic, and quick footed. Capable of using an atlatl. So hot.

We'd like to think so, wouldn't we? However, from a NYTimes article on this:

If there was any interbreeding, the flow of genes should have been both ways, Dr. Klein said, but Dr. Paabo’s group sees evidence for gene flow only from Neanderthals to modern humans.

So I think it's more a case of scrawny, wimpy homo sapiens guys getting cuckolded by the big, sexy, buff neanderthals. "Gee, is she working late gathering berries again?"
posted by Forktine at 3:20 PM on May 6, 2010


I just realized that I read that sentence about sexy homo sapiens as being about male homo sapiens, when that wasn't the case at all. My mistake.
posted by Forktine at 3:37 PM on May 6, 2010


This topic is one of my nerdy, nerdy hobbies. I am of the mind, sometimes, that it's probable that the H. sapiens living alongside Neanderthals did not understand that they were a different species of humans in the way that we do. I expect that most of them thought of the Neanderthals as a dull, ugly people, handy with spears but not exactly rocket shamans -- and that they probably thought of most neighboring populations of H. sapiens this way, too. As lodurr said, isolated populations tend to have trouble viewing out-group humans as fully human.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:51 PM on May 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


rocket shamans

Hah! I love that phrase.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:47 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


killdevil: "There's a little Elvis, and a little Neanderthal, in all of us."

A little less conversation, a little more action ...
posted by bwg at 5:49 PM on May 6, 2010


Ah, but the problem, Forktine, is that with the paucity and poor quality of Neandertal DNA available, we have a much murkier picture of the genetic code than we do our own. Possibly given more and better samples we might find the admixture was mutual.
posted by Panjandrum at 5:53 PM on May 6, 2010


I thought everyone already knew that we have Cylon ancestors.

So Clan of the Cave Bear was pretty much spot-on?

Yes. And everyone looked just as hot as Darryl Hannah. Hotter, even.


So wait, does that mean Replicants are the result of crossbreeding Cylons and Neaderthals?
posted by homunculus at 6:24 PM on May 6, 2010


I thought the science was settled by the Hanna Barbera Institute when they demonstrated that Wilma and Betty were Homo Sapiens and Fred and Barney were the neanderthals.
posted by digsrus at 6:33 PM on May 6, 2010


diff -iw H.neanderthalensis H.sapiens
posted by furtive at 7:12 PM on May 6, 2010


How long until somebody tries to make a Neanderthal in a lab? Not long, I'll bet. How messed up would it be to be created from a test tube and have enough intelligence to understand that your entire species died out tens of thousands of years ago?

While I don't think making Neanderthals is really a high priority (even for the maddest of scientists), I think that on the off-hand chance that someone wanted to cook up a Neanderthal, if she had the level of intelligence suggested, the knowledge that your genetic material was a reconstruction from the distant past would be less of a mind-fuck than a whole host of other notions that would come along with being a self-aware entity that was constructed intentionally by other self-aware entities for some purpose or cause other than the genetic compulsion to reproduce or its cultural manifestation.

We have this culturally ingrained image of Neanderthals as knuckle draggin' violent cavemen, but I think that a more contemporary view suggests that we don't have any reason to assume that Neanderthals weren't just as socially and cognitively advanced as we were. The protrusion of the orbital bone suggests that the difference between human and Neanderthal brain size may have been concentrated in the OFC/vmPFC, regions implicated in a range of higher order social cognitive tasks like self-referential thinking, modulation of value signals and subsequent decisions, and, most interesting to me, self-conscious/social emotions like embarrassment. Coupled with increased complexity of the facial vasculature, it makes me wonder if maybe they didn't have some delicate system of affective communication that we couldn't understand.

That's all wild speculation though. What I can assert confidently is this: There's a common notion that the size of one's brain does not correlate with IQ, and it is bullshit. I'm not a huge fan of voxel based morphometry, but more contemporary work has demonstrated that there are, in fact, significant correlations between brain size and general fluid intelligence. Sheer volume of the brain isn't the deciding factor, but the relationship between our neural network and than that of a rat or a frog or a nematode is not a qualitative difference, but a quantitative one. It could easily be the case that the Neanderthal neural architecture was significantly more complex than our own.

I get the sense that a lot of people are also possessed of the notion that a species that was more intelligent than we are would not have lost out to natural selection, and that because we aren't extinct we must be superior organisms. Evolution is really about being good at being what you are though, a lot more than it is about being at the top of some pyramid. I spend a lot of time thinking about vmPFC, and I'm really curious as to what life would be like with a beefier one. Would you have access to some sort of emotional range that we can't even conceive of?

Then again, maybe somebody will make a Neanderthal in a lab after all...
posted by solipsophistocracy at 7:53 PM on May 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


My knowledge of Neanderthals is based on briefly skimming an old National Geographic magazine one time at the doctor's office when I hurt my foot. Apparently, they were bigger, stronger, and (possibly) smarter than us (they had bigger brains). However, they required approximately twice the daily calorie intake of us h. sapiens. Their existence was way before agriculture and the birth of civilization, so both groups would have been nomadic hunter-gatherer types. It makes sense that humans, being probably almost as clever, yet needing less energy would win out. It also makes sense that Neanderthals being physically stronger, would have probably propagated some genes this way.
posted by jefbla at 11:04 PM on May 6, 2010


Apparently, there was a third lineage of proto-humans, living concurrently with h.sapiens and h.neanderthalis. I'm sure they were fighting with each other, and when not, they were banging each other.
posted by acrobat at 12:05 AM on May 7, 2010


I think that Neanderthals wouldn't necessarily share the same beauty ideals as we do. They'd think our domed foreheads and pointy noses rather unpleasant and find us pretty wimpy looking.

Confess, Fletch; is the Neanderthal Parallax worth reading?
posted by Omnomnom at 2:53 AM on May 7, 2010


I was nowhere near the human settlement that night so it couldn't have been me ... I was working late, yeah, that's it, working late on the Olduvai account ...
posted by subgear at 4:38 AM on May 7, 2010


We have this culturally ingrained image of Neanderthals as knuckle draggin' violent cavemen, but I think that a more contemporary view suggests that we don't have any reason to assume that Neanderthals weren't just as socially and cognitively advanced as we were. The protrusion of the orbital bone suggests that the difference between human and Neanderthal brain size may have been concentrated in the OFC/vmPFC, regions implicated in a range of higher order social cognitive tasks like self-referential thinking, modulation of value signals and subsequent decisions, and, most interesting to me, self-conscious/social emotions like embarrassment. Coupled with increased complexity of the facial vasculature, it makes me wonder if maybe they didn't have some delicate system of affective communication that we couldn't understand.

I think you are really taking the knuckle draggin' view of Neanderthal intelligence to the other extreme. The archeological evidence points to them having a similar cultural level as other pre-modern human groups, and Google isn't returning anything supporting your assertion that they had larger OFC/vmPFC areas, if you have any links I'd love to see them.

On the other hand, we know that modern humans started developing a more advanced culture around 50 - 40,000 years ago. This included representative art, advanced burial rituals, diverse and environmental specific tool sets. Though there is no consensus as to why these changes happened, there is no dispute that these were all more advanced than anything the Neanderthal's or any other pre-modern group was doing at that time. There isn't any evidence of the Neanderthals adapting any of these more advanced methods, so I think that is a definite strike against them being more intelligent that moderns.

These new findings about Neanderthal ancestry lead to more questions than it answered. Why did the interbreeding only occur early in the Middle East but not later in Europe? Since after this finding it seems likely that archaic human populations interbreed fairly easily, and that they regularly shared the same geographic regions, what was so special about those humans from Africa that allowed them to explode over the whole planet and thus have their genes make up the majority of our genome?
posted by afu at 6:09 AM on May 7, 2010


I like big brow ridges and I cannot lie ...
posted by kcds at 7:31 AM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


You Cro-Magnons can't deny
When a girl walks in with a receding chin
And two big things on her face
You get sprung...
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:44 AM on May 7, 2010


My anaconda don't want none unless it's got face buns, hon!
posted by vibrotronica at 9:33 AM on May 7, 2010


Then I start thinking about hostage-taking and related forms of "slavery". If there were conflicts between bands -- and they could be perfectly mundane stuff like inter-village raiding, none of the old "Neanderthal Genocide" scenarios needed -- there would likely be hostages taken over whom dominance would be exercised. So, yes, breeding. [aside on this: see Ian Macleod's wonderful and highly disturbing novella The Hob Carpet for an alt.history political-morality-tale take on this.]

Just wanted to point out that most of this post is reading neolithic patterns of life back into the paleolithic era, tens of thousands of years earlier.

Life changed completely along with the climate about ten thousand years ago. It is far too easy to confuse things which are ancient but still generally part of our cultural heritage (neolithic patterns of life, which were quite widespread right up until the industrial revolution) and those periods which are almost unimaginably remote.

Just as an example, any reference to such things as "villages" (even using the most loose and imprecise possible definitions of the term) make no sense in the paleolithic. Hostage taking or raiding also makes no sense in the pre-neolithic. The closest would be likely very rare cases of a band forced by some change out of their usual territory forcibly taking over (not annexing, moving into) that of another band and either exterminating or forcing out anyone already there.

Remember that pre-neolithic means of food gathering (which relied mostly on meat, thanks to the ice-age climate that made up over 75% of the last several hundred thousand years) are extraordinarily inefficient. Even in the most lush areas it takes well in excess of a square mile of territory to support a single individual, requiring large distances between bands. There simply was not the economic surplus or the means of storing food required to allow even the smallest villages to form or to allow the development of semi-professional warriors or raiders. Not to mention that population growth was at or just barely above replacement rate which means that no single band had the capacity to absorb the losses that would result even from successful banditry.

(I can highly recomend the available lectures of The Teaching Company on this and many other subjects as well as the books published by Oxford University Press)
posted by Riemann at 10:59 AM on May 7, 2010


You're upping the ante a bit when you invoke "semi-professional warriors or raiders." I can think of plenty of examples of cultures that practice raiding without those things.

And as for the losses from banditry, see same. As far as I'm aware, most raiding doesn't usually entail killing, any more than most territorial conflicts between predators do, and for the same reason.

You're probably right about the food storage issue and related lack of surplus, but bands do adopt youths who look like they could be productive.
posted by lodurr at 11:25 AM on May 7, 2010


lodurr: You know plenty of post-neolithic cultures that do these things. Even hunter-gatherers in remote places like New Guinea are post-neolithic peoples.
posted by Riemann at 11:28 AM on May 7, 2010


I think you are really taking the knuckle draggin' view of Neanderthal intelligence to the other extreme.

Yeah, that's what I meant to do. I don't make any strong claims that it's a more accurate positon. I think it's pretty much impossible to draw any strong conclusions about Neanderthal intelligence, and what I said was that there is no reason to assume that Neanderthals weren't just as smart as we are, just like there isn't any reason to assume that they were smarter, or that they were dumber. Instead, however, of making the culturally ingrained assumption that they were less intelligent, I posited some potential explanations for how they might have been more intelligent. I don't suggest that these idle musings are empirically validated, which is why I qualified them with the statement "That's all wild speculation, though."

The archeological evidence points to them having a similar cultural level as other pre-modern human groups, and Google isn't returning anything supporting your assertion that they had larger OFC/vmPFC areas, if you have any links I'd love to see them.

I said "protrusion of the orbital bone suggests that the difference between human and Neanderthal brain size may have been concentrated in the OFC/vmPFC." I don't really consider that an assertion, given the double hedge and explicit acknowledgement that it is a speculative, untestable claim.

What other brain areas you think might have existed in the space behind the protruding orbital bone? Orbitofrontal cortex, variably lumped with or split from vmPFC depending on who you ask, is called that because it is the frontal cortex below the orbital bone.

Here is a dense ass paper addressing the differences in neuro-cranial architecture between humans and Neanderthals.

As you can see, the differences are largely in the parietal area, larger in humans, and fronto-temporal areas, larger in Neanderthals. We don't know a damn thing about the cytoarchitectonics, however, as brain tissue doesn't lend itself to fossilization. The laminar, columnar organization is actually a hell of a lot more important than gross anatomical differences, but I'm not really sure how we'd get at that.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 12:13 PM on May 7, 2010 [2 favorites]




rieman: You know plenty of post-neolithic cultures that do these things.

I know plenty of animal species that do these things. Outside of Nature and the Discovery Channel, most territorial conflicts between predators don't end in death, and bands of primates and social predators do incorporate new members. Horses will take burro jennies into their herds and mate with them; predator packs will merge, and while in many cases the dominant male will kill offspring of a previous dominant male, he will happily thereafter mate with the new females. I'm not aware of a contemporary primate species that raids for young, but that behavior had to emerge somewhere and I don't see why we should assume it's neo-lithic or newer.

I understand where you're coming from, I really do -- I have also studied anthropology and I am sensitive to my biases. It's possible to take the business of not projecting "modern" technology (where social practices are seen as a form of technology) onto ancients too far. When you do, you end up ignoring the possibility that paleolithic humans could do things like, say, build boats. (Australia? The new north american migration hypotheses that have been gaining currency in the past 10 years or so?) Plus, it leads to a subtle form of human exceptionalism: We end up having to assume that these things we're talking about (raiding, exogamous adoption) are things that modern humans thought up.
posted by lodurr at 9:09 AM on May 13, 2010


The laminar, columnar organization is actually a hell of a lot more important than gross anatomical differences, but I'm not really sure how we'd get at that.
posted by lodurr at 9:12 AM on May 13, 2010


Yes, thanks. I already addressed that thar issue though, and pretty explicitly.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 12:46 PM on May 13, 2010


Ahem, you mean Science, not Nature. Different journals, different publishers.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 1:09 PM on May 21, 2010




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