birds do it, bees do it, even australopithecines do it
September 21, 2016 8:40 AM   Subscribe

Humans and Neanderthals had sex. But was it for love?

"Did modern humans look over there and see a Neanderthal and say ‘hm, not bad?’" Maybe.
posted by poffin boffin (74 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
Title of the year
posted by R.F.Simpson at 8:42 AM on September 21, 2016 [39 favorites]


Sample Neanderthal pickup line: "Do you have a little Neanderthal in you? Would you like to?"
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:47 AM on September 21, 2016 [52 favorites]


I can't even imagine what Neanderthals would have seen in those scrawny, gangly, big-headed freaks.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:47 AM on September 21, 2016 [11 favorites]


"I would do anything for love, but I won't do Thag."
posted by bondcliff at 8:57 AM on September 21, 2016 [100 favorites]


It's like these people haven't even read Clan of the Cave Bear.

I envy them so much.
posted by straight at 9:01 AM on September 21, 2016 [63 favorites]


But was it for love?

Geeeehhh... mwol glogg bragh. Ghunnttthh...[sigh]... griiick fhummm!

Ballrg! [waves hand dismissively]
posted by CynicalKnight at 9:04 AM on September 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


*Imagines humans arriving in Eurasia to find an ailing population of Neanderthals, being struck with compassion, and feeding them chicken soup and gently holding their hands until, 40,000 years later, their patients finally slip off into that undiscovered country from whose bourn no hominid returns.*
posted by little onion at 9:09 AM on September 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


It's like these people haven't even read Clan of the Cave Bear.

My favorite bit is when the heroine invents pretty much fucking everything, including most kinds of fucking.
posted by Artw at 9:13 AM on September 21, 2016 [15 favorites]


"Throughout pre-history, humans and humans had sex. But was it for love?"
posted by Nelson at 9:15 AM on September 21, 2016 [11 favorites]


Geeeehhh... mwol glogg bragh. Ghunnttthh...[sigh]... griiick fhummm!

Actually, it was "Sock it to me sock it to me sock it to me sock it to me sock it to me Sock it to me sock it to me sock it to me!"
posted by octobersurprise at 9:16 AM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


whut?
posted by Herodios at 9:17 AM on September 21, 2016


Last I heard, the consensus view was that their brains were bigger than ours.
posted by jamjam at 9:17 AM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Everyone knows it was death by snu-snu.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:18 AM on September 21, 2016 [12 favorites]


*Imagines humans arriving in Eurasia to find an ailing population of Neanderthals, being struck with compassion, and feeding them chicken soup and gently holding their hands until, 40,000 years later, their patients finally slip off into that undiscovered country from whose bourn no hominid returns.*

reddit?
posted by pyramid termite at 9:18 AM on September 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


I've met people who looked like Neanderthals, and they had partners, so my bet is that the species thing was not a major barrier.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:19 AM on September 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


"Throughout pre-history, humans and humans had sex. But was it for love?"

What's love got to do with it? What's love but a second hand emotion?
posted by happyroach at 9:23 AM on September 21, 2016 [24 favorites]


What is love, anyway? Does anybody love anybody anyway?
posted by octobersurprise at 9:26 AM on September 21, 2016 [10 favorites]


I've met people who looked like Neanderthals,

What are the stereotypes about Neanderthals and Cromags anymore, anyway? I'm never sure if I'd be Neanderthal or Cromag. I think I might be very typically Cromag, which would make sense, since my heritage is French Huguenot and Swede on my mom's side. It's the shape of the head that tells, right?
posted by saulgoodman at 9:27 AM on September 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


"You see, most primates, and indeed many mammals, have at least some spines on their penises," Hawks explains on his website ... Like humans, Neanderthals were missing the genes that codes for spiny penises.


Well, that was fortunate.
posted by yhbc at 9:27 AM on September 21, 2016 [18 favorites]


Little known fact: that scene in Titanic where Jack and Rose do it in the car and her hand smacks the foggy window? EXACTLY how that Lascaux cave handprint got there.
posted by briank at 9:28 AM on September 21, 2016 [28 favorites]


Bleak.

"When we look at history and see what Australian aboriginals went through, what Native American people went through, what Easter Islanders went through, it’s hard to say that the Neanderthals would have been better off than these historical cases," Hawks says. "It’s probably the case that Neanderthals went through the Paleolithic version of the contacts we know about through history."
posted by anastasiav at 9:31 AM on September 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Last I heard, the consensus view was that their brains were bigger than ours.

Larger by volume, but likely with much more of the total space dedicated to the visual cortex and muscle control, so they probably had less brainpower for higher cognition and social development than humans.
posted by Copronymus at 9:31 AM on September 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


And the verdict on their attractiveness? Maybe, if you squint.

I like to see a big, barrel-chested bastard, and I expect enough of my ancestresses did as well. Whether there was functional consent in those times, in those places, we will never really know. But I expect it was a stranger, broader world than we can say.

Personally, I wonder if it isn't possible that sapiens humans didn't see Neanderthals as any less human than their sapiens neighbors down the pike. I wouldn't be surprised to learn (if I ever could, which is impossible) that the sapiens contemporaries of Neanderthals saw them as no more or less "people" than other tribes. Even in the thousands of years since the Neanderthals vanished, we have always considered rival groups of humans to be less than human, and sometimes, we have considered certain animals to be more than animals. The first explorers who encountered gorillas considered them a particularly wild bunch of people (which, some say again, they are). I personally would guess that, depending on time and place, marriage or concubinage with a Neanderthal might be roughly equivalent to marriage or concubinage with a member of another human outgroup -- not ideal, and sometimes done by force, but not unheard of.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:34 AM on September 21, 2016 [9 favorites]


"Genetics are finding evidence of gene flows between humans and the recently discovered Denisovans, and I’m told there’s emerging evidence for gene flows between us and a mystery species we haven’t even discovered yet."
Mystery species! Mystery species! Are you ready for your mystery species!
posted by octobersurprise at 9:34 AM on September 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


Where have you gone, Gary Larson? A new generation of biology textbooks turns its lonely eyes to you.
posted by duffell at 9:44 AM on September 21, 2016 [38 favorites]


Shaman by KSR is a book I would highly recommend. Anything further would be spoilers.
posted by radicalawyer at 9:46 AM on September 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


What is love, anyway? Does anybody love anybody anyway?

Everybody loves somebody sometimes. Everybody falls in love somehow. Don't stop believin'. Hold on to that feeling.
posted by nubs at 9:48 AM on September 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


I think, if I could have one scientific discovery, it would be for a complete Neanderthal to pop out of a glacier.

Ötzi is about 5k years old. The last Neanderthals died out about 40k years ago. Lyuba is about 42k years old. There's a chance, there's a chance...
posted by Leon at 9:51 AM on September 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Popping back in to share the results of my Google-fu into my own question, from upthread... Seems like we're all just a jumble of sapiens sapiens and Neanderthal traits at this point. Not sure what the big deal of the distinction is now, though the history and science is fascinating...
posted by saulgoodman at 9:52 AM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


It isn't an article about paleofucking unless it talks about penis bones! *runs to article*

Phew! It does. Good article.

To me the most amazing thing - which I'm happy to see in the essay - has always been that not only did we procreate, children of such unions survived long enough - which not only meant they survived being birthed but infancy and childhood, which shows caring - to procreate with someone else and pass on the genes. It's not the interspecies sexing that impresses me, it's the survival rate.

The optimist in me has seen too many pictures of animals of different species who care about each other not to think love wasn't possible. Sometimes. Even if they couldn't communicate. Annnnnd now I have Radar Love in my head.
posted by barchan at 9:55 AM on September 21, 2016 [13 favorites]


Humans and Sheep, Dogs, Cows, Horses, Goats, Moss, Carrots, Cucumbers, Squash, holes in Trees, the bare aching Earth, anything knobby or holey, warm or cold, had sex. But was it for love?
posted by ennui.bz at 9:56 AM on September 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think, if I could have one scientific discovery, it would be for a complete Neanderthal to pop out of a glacier.

and if he starts practicing law? ooh man even better
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:10 AM on September 21, 2016 [11 favorites]


more of the total space dedicated to the visual cortex and muscle control

I am so sick of the Neandertal League's total dominance in the World Series every damn year for, what, millennia now! I mean sure, we had Ted Williams back in the forties for a couple years, but even in his case it was clear he'd sacrificed some cognition in favor of his visual cortex and muscle control!
posted by mwhybark at 10:13 AM on September 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


And, further, the story envisions and answers the question posed in this thread's linktitle. The answer's inherent in hominid behavior, one would think.
posted by mwhybark at 10:30 AM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Part of me is mega-sad about the Neanderthals' extinction. It was a whole other humanity that has disappeared. They might have been just as clever and they still died out.
posted by constantinescharity at 11:07 AM on September 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


What is love?
Cro magnon don't hurt me
Don't hurt me
No more
posted by tommasz at 11:12 AM on September 21, 2016 [10 favorites]


Given my experience working in an ER, a Neanderthal is probably the least weird thing our early ancestors had sex with.
posted by madajb at 11:17 AM on September 21, 2016 [32 favorites]


People are so heavily invested in the American myth of the brutal realities of competition and survival of the fittest (basically, the same repeatedly debunked, stupid pseudoscience that fueled the eugenics movement and the rise of Hitler), they can't even stop talking about how inferior and extinct those pitiful Neanderthals were long after the evidence that a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA is ubiquitous in human populations. In what sense did Neanderthals go extinct if we're all basically 4% or more Neanderthal? People in America just like to force everything into frameworks that justify their archaic, unscientific worldview on the vital importance and fundamental virtue of competition.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:54 AM on September 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


In what sense did Neanderthals go extinct if we're all basically 4% or more Neanderthal?

In a 96% or less sense?

No, I see your point. The idea—which most of us were raised on, probably—of Sapiens clearly and decisively replacing Neanderthalensis with a superior model is incorrect and wildly overstated. OTOH, to say that the Neanderthal line is not extinct because some small percentage of their genes survive in modern humans is like saying that dinosaurs are not extinct because their evolutionary legacy is carried on by the birds. It's using "not extinct" in a very unconventional way.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:19 PM on September 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


MetaFilter: It's not the interspecies sexing that impresses me, it's the survival rate.
posted by Gelatin at 12:24 PM on September 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


What's strange to me is none of these writers or researchers apparently remembering being a teenager, or has one in the house. The sheer hormonal rush and resultant sex drive, at least on the part of the male homo sapiens sapiens side, could make even inanimate objects look like potential sex partners if some of the tales I've heard are correct. A chance encounter in the woods on a nice spring day, the kind of unchaperoned rendezvous that most parents today take care to prevent, next thing you know there's an extra mouth to feed and a kid who looks a bit different from the others.

Then there's the possibility that while neanderthals look, to us, brutish and caveman-like, what did we look like to them? Waifu? Elvish? Considering both are somewhat popular porn generas, and the article states that it is unknown which way the dna transfer went, we may have been the holy grail of sex for some, and if their men were more muscular and sturdy, well, some women like that, too.

I think once genus homo hit the whole self-aware, "sapiens" level of development, a lot of animal mating behavior traits were selected against, such as the visible displays of fertility and penile spines mentioned in the article. And with the lack of outward clues and triggers, sexuality back then, as it is in the common era, was mostly up to the individuals involved.
posted by Blackanvil at 12:28 PM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Neander... thal, wherever you are
I believe that the haploid goes on
Once more you fashion stone tools
And you're here in my genes
And my genes will go on and on

Sorry. That's the best I could come up with.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 12:44 PM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


at least on the part of the male homo sapiens sapiens side, could make even inanimate objects look like potential sex partners

Something something gender stereotypes, and most sex toys are dildos and not fleshlights.
posted by picklenickle at 12:47 PM on September 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


if we're all basically 4% (Neanderthal)


Actually, most of us are less than 4%. I am exceedingly proud of my full four percent (according to my 23AndME test results) Neanderthal ancestry. Though I could have done without all the extra hair...
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:27 PM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


If we have Neanderthal genes, that means that the human-neanderthal hybrids were able to reproduce, right? And they had offspring able to mate. But probably not very successful at mating because otherwise we would be carrying a higher Neanderthal percentage, right?
posted by dov3 at 1:40 PM on September 21, 2016


Just about every human today (except those of solely African ancestry) has around 1 to 4 percent Neanderthal genes in every cell of their body.

I remember hearing this a while back, and being so happy at the news. One of the justifications for the racism behind slavery was that Africans weren't really humans, but some sort of advanced ape that approximated human. Thus it was okay to keep us slaves.

Now we're able to say "Guess who the real humans are, bitches!"
posted by magstheaxe at 1:44 PM on September 21, 2016 [17 favorites]


"All last week, humans and humans had sex. But was it for love?"
posted by rokusan at 2:14 PM on September 21, 2016


Clan of the Cave Bear

AKA "Ayla's Nodule", which Jondalar was alla time finding...like he couldn't remember where he left it....
posted by biscotti at 3:00 PM on September 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


What's strange to me is none of these writers or researchers apparently remembering being a teenager, or has one in the house. The sheer hormonal rush and resultant sex drive, at least on the part of the male homo sapiens sapiens side, could make even inanimate objects look like potential sex partners if some of the tales I've heard are correct.

Well, the nice parts about inanimate objects are you certainly don't have to look your best, spend too much on candlelit dinners nor worry about hurting their inanimate feelings,
posted by y2karl at 3:00 PM on September 21, 2016


Archeological evidence suggests Neanderthal dating rituals involved using actual tinder and grinders. Which is about as fucking hipster as you can get, amirte?
posted by mosk at 3:07 PM on September 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


(Since nobody else has linked this yet) I think it's pretty clear that Neanderthals weren't attracting modern humans with their sexy voices. Previously.
posted by tinkletown at 3:17 PM on September 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Many years ago I saw, I think possibly in SciAm, a reconstruction of a Neanderthal using modern forensic techniques that are used to reconstruct a face from a skull, and the result wasn't brutish or rough at all; the point was that properly attired and groomed (and we know that Neanderthals did things like using jewelry and performing burials) that the Neanderthal probably wouldn't attract much attention walking down the streets of New York City today. The forehead slope would have been unusual but not too different than plenty of actual humans who live among us. The brutish look is actually a construct maintained by the people who draw illustrations, who make them brutish because they are supposed to be animalistic and prehuman. But the truth is we know very little about how they were, and for humans who didn't have our keen sense of species/racial identity, it's quite possible a Neanderthal would have looked more attractive than some of the more nasty and brutish actual humans barging around.
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:23 PM on September 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


YOU FOOLS!

Don't you know that Neanderthals were vicious murder-apes!?

My guilty pleasure in nonsense anthropology aside, I think the author makes too much of an "us vs. them" mentality which may be anachronistic at best, and dodgy evo-psych at worst. Studies of contemporary hunter-gatherer societies find they actually have a tendency towards fission-fusion social patterns, with groups constantly splintering and other groups coming together.

The notion that prehistoric humans would have the same standards for in/out groups feels forced, and the colonial genocide angle even more so. In fact, if we do look at historical events in the Americas, we can find plenty of examples indigenous groups devastated by disease, war, and slave-raids who formed together in new societies. We can likewise see examples of individuals being adopted into otherwise "alien" societies. I don't see any need to metaphorically import our more dire recent history back into the past, and particularly not in such a way that ignores the hopeful parts.

And let's not forget that there were multiple occasions and locations where humans and neanderthals lived in the same area for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Plenty of time to get all sorts of freaky and/or sappy.
posted by Panjandrum at 7:02 PM on September 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Now we're able to say "Guess who the real humans are, bitches!"

I have since read on some noisebox on the internet that the argument is now that the admixture of Neanderthal DNA is what makes Europeans super special and etc. etc. Racists gonna race.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:07 PM on September 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Wait a minute. I thought Valley of Horses was the porny one. I was the hit of eighth grade when I found it on the bookshelf in class and passed it around.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:53 AM on September 22, 2016


Human history suggests there are two options: We would have empathized with them, or we would have met them with aggression.

I'm a little annoyed by the implicit assumption here of Homo Sapiens being the top dog from day one. It's also possible we could have admired, revered or even worshipped the Neanderthals as beings superior to us. Think about it: They were physically and culturally adapted to an environment that must have been a challenging one for a ragtag bunch of newcomers. They were strong and capable, and would have possessed invaluable skills and knowledge, perhaps even specialized tools.

Also, as a nutritionist, I have for years had a pet fascination for what's known (or hypothesized) about the Neanderthal diet; last I checked the going theory seemed to be that it was largely meat based, and that Neanderthals may have been particularly skilled at hunting large animals. Imagine how that would have impressed us Sapiens subsisting on roots, termites and the odd muskrat.

I'm also thinking of how early humans probably saw the world around them; they quite possibly were animists, ascribing magical qualities to interesting rock formations or awe-inspiring animals. In that light, a being so much like us but with extra powers may have seemed positively divine.

Personally, I like to imagine these encounters (and the subsequent generations-long co-existence) being the prehistoric origin of many myths and legends about angels, fairies, elves, nymphs, sprites, gnomes, goblins etc. Folk tales mostly don't depict these Not-Quite-Human-Others as something to conquer or destroy, rather than some kind of cool but maybe a bit scary beings you shouldn't generally mess with. Seems plausible to me.

And by the way, if you're not yet familiar with the prehistoric reconstruction art by Adrie and Alfons Kennis, you have some serious googling to do. They're amazing. Just check out this flirty Neanderthal guy, and try telling me you'd turn down his woolly mammoth steak on a wintry Pleistocene evening. #nojudgement
posted by sively at 4:07 AM on September 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


No, I see your point. The idea—which most of us were raised on, probably—of Sapiens clearly and decisively replacing Neanderthalensis with a superior model is incorrect and wildly overstated.

Exactly. I'd go a little further than saying one line went extinct though, because the sapiens sapiens line didn't come through it's contact with Neanderthals fully intact either. Modern humans are a hybrid. Without any built-in threshold for what percentage of DNA defines a species, it seems to me another equally valid way to say it might be that the sapiens sapiens line went about 4% extinct. That line didn't "survive" as a completely distinct species either; it just came out being the dominant genetic contributor to the new hybrid species resulting from congress between the two lines. At least, that way of looking at it makes more sense to me and obviates the dumb racist arguments.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:34 AM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Just check out this flirty Neanderthal guy, and try telling me you'd turn down his woolly mammoth steak on a wintry Pleistocene evening.

When you look at modern reconstructions, the whole "Would people like us really be willing to get it on with Neandertal people?" seems sort of silly. I mean, it's like asking "Would modern humans really be willing to have sex with Vin Diesel?" with faux surprise in it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:19 AM on September 22, 2016


Just check out this flirty Neanderthal guy ...

I, uh. Hmm. Well. A loincloth first. Just to be going on with.

But seriously, they are amazing. They do a fine Ambulocetus (under the "paintings" link) and I am fascinated with those things.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:22 AM on September 22, 2016


it seems to me another equally valid way to say it might be that the sapiens sapiens line went about 4% extinct

Nah, still doing fine in Africa.

Do we know if it's the same 4% all over the world, or if different races got different bits of our cousins' genetic legacy? Do we know what it expresses as? If it expresses at all, or if it's junk DNA?
posted by Leon at 8:15 AM on September 22, 2016


Concentrated in persons of Northern European descent and iirc contributory to hair color and a couple other things.
posted by mwhybark at 8:35 AM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Leon: I posted upthread about that. Almost everybody seems to have some Neanderthal traits.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:39 AM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


The brow ridge that characterizes so-called Caucasians for example is a bit of Neanderthal residue.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:41 AM on September 22, 2016


There's a recent new study showing percentage of archaic DNA on a map, both Neanderthal and Denisovan. Here's the Denisovan map. I can't find a non-paywalled version of the Neanderthal map, but here's an article that includes a redrawing of the Neanderthal map.

I'm very skeptical of the simplistic measure "percent Neanderthal DNA". Far too easy to write just-so stories about facial features, body hair, white supremacy, etc.
posted by Nelson at 8:58 AM on September 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


No more thawing Neanderthals from glaciers! Somebody already did it. IT'S ALIIIIVE! And it's running for President!
posted by Anne Neville at 10:34 AM on September 22, 2016


Last I heard, the consensus view was that their brains were bigger than ours.

So what? The average male h. sapiens brain is larger than the average female h. sapiens brain, but it would be a mistake to read much into that.
posted by Fongotskilernie at 11:55 AM on September 22, 2016


"Does your penis have spikes? If not, thank a Neanderthal!" would make a cool bumper sticker.

I hope we can all at least agree that the spiky penis is extinct. (As I post this, I'm wondering how long it'll take before somebody comes back with a cite that proves me wrong...)
posted by saulgoodman at 12:57 PM on September 22, 2016


Half an hour for your cite, saulgoodman, and that long only because I looked for a better reference than just Wikipedia. This NSFW link (Wikipedia penis picture) for pearly penile papules notes "Hirsuties coronae glandis are sometimes described as vestigial remnants of penile spines, sensitive features found in the same location in other primates." There's more science in this Scientific American post, including the claim
the overall genetic system to make penile spines is still there lurking in our genomes. If we could turn on the gene at the right time, replacing the function of the enhancer, we can still grow penile spines.
posted by Nelson at 1:24 PM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Wait, wait, I had no idea when I posted above that Neanderthal genes were now a white pride thing! I didn't mean it that way. I just thought it was a cool random thing that was sciencey. So dejected now.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 4:42 PM on September 23, 2016


Trumpy channers ruin everything.
posted by Artw at 8:59 PM on September 23, 2016


Wait, wait, I had no idea when I posted above that Neanderthal genes were now a white pride thing!

Yeah, the blogger Ted Beale, aka Vox Merda used to go on about neanderthal genes as if it meant anything.
posted by happyroach at 10:12 AM on September 24, 2016




Trumpy channers ruin everything.

Tommy: Trumpy. You can do magic!

Crow T. Robot: It's called "evil", kid.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:37 PM on September 26, 2016




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