Sunday, February 12, 2012

Where we're coming from

An interesting development in anthropology in the past couple of years* is due partly to the mapping of the human genome. Scientists have found that much of the human race - particularly those of Europea extraction - carries around Neanderthal DNA. Denisovians, Eastern cousins of the Neanderthals, made an impact in Asia, where homo sapiens in some parts also breeded with homo floresiensis. And there's an excellent chance that a still obscure species known as homo helmei worked its way into the African genome. Which is to say that we're something of a gumbo of a species. There was a melting pot millennia before there was an America.

This study delves into the ways in which the thinning population of Neanderthals contributed to the modern human race.

To address the possibility that the two groups would not have seen one another as potential mates, the researchers also examined the possible impacts of social barriers to mating in their models. They found that unless social taboos were nearly 100 percent effective, it would have not made any difference in outcomes over time as the gene pools mixed, Barton said.

"This is one of the first attempts to explicitly address the impact of various degrees of social avoidance on possible hybridization between the two groups," added Riel-Salvatore.

"Other than the fact that they disappeared, there is no evidence that Neanderthals were any less fit as hunter-gatherers of the late Pleistocene than any other human ancestor living at that time. It looks like they were as capable as anyone else," Barton said.

We might never know the details regarding this merger of the races. It doesn't help that there was no written language at the time. But I do like the idea that the social taboos were overturned here.


susan said...

I've been following the ongoing research for some years as well. It wasn't that long ago the archeologists were certain homo sap sap had simply wiped out the Neanderthal race and now it turns out they were dating.

You might also find this article about sea sponges as interesting as I did - especially this part:

'sponges must have descended from a more advanced ancestor than previously suspected'

Ben said...

I also like this part:

"It means there was an elaborate machinery in place that already had some function," he says. "What I want to know now is what were all these genes doing prior to the advent of sponge."

If sponges have just spent the past billion years or so pretending to lack self awareness and they're actually some kind of dormant dominant species, well, it'll be a great plot twist.

susan said...

'Only Begotten Daughter' by James Morrow had an interesting take on the unrecognized importance of a sponge. I probably just did the unforgivable and wrote a spoiler.