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K. Kris Hirst

4SH 3.2: Neanderthal News

By November 24, 2006

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Surely one of the most intensely scrutinized news topics of 2006 has been the Neanderthal, our nearest neighbor on the planet who may or may not have been closely related. Here's what folks are saying about a couple of the stories making the rounds about our Neanderthal (or as John Hawks and all the cool kids say 'Neandertal') neighbor.

Neanderthal Introgression

Two stories were released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in early November that argued that there was evidence that the division between Early Modern Human and Neanderthal is not as clear as generations of scientists have thought, and that some mixing of genes (i.e., sex) may have occurred, meaning that modern humans are the result of an amalgam of early modern humans and Neanderthals, er, Neandertals (if I must be cool).

One of the reasons this is so very interesting, is because one important debate in paleoanthropology has been about evolutionary processes: did modern humans evolve from Homo erectus once in Africa and then migrate out in waves (called the Out of Africa hypothesis), or did humans evolve from Homo erectus several times around the world (called the multi-regional hypothesis)?

First up, the evidence for what scientists are calling 'introgression' between Neandertal and modern humans:

Here are the two papers: Basically, Trinkaus and colleagues (in much published scholarly research, the lead scholar is listed last in the credits, so I'm referring to the results published in Soficaru et al.), investigated the hominin remains from a cave in Romania called Pester Muierii. They believe, on the basis of the morphology (the shape of the bones, in this case with special emphasis on the skulls), that the people living in the cave some 30,000 years ago were a blend of early modern human and Neanderthal. Lahn and colleagues (that is, Evans et al.) look at DNA evidence and conclude that, contrary to what we've believed in the past, there are significant differences within modern human populations, and that a 'brand' of genes called "Haplotype D" separated from the rest of humans some 1.1 million years ago and then merged back ('introgressed') into the population about 37,000 years ago. Since the entire genome of Neanderthals has not as yet been completed, this is an educated guess on the part of Lahn et al.

The best way to understand this is to read some of the blogs put together by my esteemed colleagues:

More on Neanderthal Genome Sequencing

The second story I covered in detail just last week in Neanderthal DNA Studied, so I'll just post a few of the more recent blogs:

Miscellaneous Tidbits and Background

Neanderthal, Neandertal. Let's call the whole thing off.

And, as a final word: Isn't the internet a wonderful place to learn about science?

Comments

November 28, 2006 at 11:07 am
(1) Kris Hirst says:

Just got an email from a person who wishes to remain anonymous but says “I enjoy your website, and feel compelled to send you what is probably one of a multitude of messages on this subject…the issue is not what is cool or not…just whether you prefer to use the English or original German pronounciation….
“th” in the Neanderthal is pronounced as a t in German…no cool or uncool…just a language choice.”

and it makes me wonder if I shouldn’t switch to the Neandertal spelling. Hmm. Anybody else have a comment?

November 28, 2006 at 4:46 pm
(2) maruli says:

as a German, I suggest the writing Neanderthal with the H.
In German language, for example Köln is a city, while a Kölner is an inhabitant of that City.
Neandertal is a location. When I call someone a Neandertaler, in modern writing, I am referring to a person living now in this place.
Only a Neanderthaler with the H is an unambiguous term for the prehestoric version.

Maruli

ps. The Neandertal is near Düsseldorf and the museum there is worth a visit.

November 28, 2006 at 4:48 pm
(3) Kris Hirst says:

Excellent point! and one I’ve never thought of. Thanks!

Kris

November 28, 2006 at 9:00 pm
(4) Kris Hirst says:

Afarensis has a great discussion about this issue on his blog today:

http://scienceblogs.com/afarensis/2006/11/26/did_john_hawks_call_me_uncool/#commentsArea

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