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Thread: Neanderthal : facts and myths

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    Post Neanderthal : facts and myths



    Neanderthal has long suffered from a bad image and continues to evoke a series of misconceptions.

    Soon after the first skeletons were discovered in Belgium (1829), Gibraltar (1848) and Germany (1856), scientists of the time claimed that the Homo Neanderthalis, as it had been named, was not human. They imagined that it was some sort of beast-like primate, closer to the gorilla or the Yeti than to modern humans. We now know that these early inhabitants of Europe, not found on other continents apart from the Near East, actually looked much more like us than anything else. Here is a reconstruction of a Neanderthal child from Gibraltar by the Anthropological Institute, University of Zürich.



    Was Neanderthal less evolved than us ?

    One first misconception is that all Neanderthals were the same. The proto-Neanderthals fisrt appeared some 350,000 years ago, at a time when our Homo Sapiens ancestors were still fairly primitive Homo Erectus, with a brain size of 900 to 1100 cc.

    Neanderthal roamed Europe until 30,000 years ago, when it suddenly seem to have disappeared. Naturally, there was plenty of time for evolution in over 300,000 years, and many sub-species developed. It is likely that there was a greater genetic distance between the most different Neanderthals ethnicities than between ethnic groups of modern humans.

    When the Homo Sapiens (modern humans) arrived in Europe about 40,000 years ago, Neanderthal was at its most advanced level of evolution. Its cranium of 1200 to 1700 cc was in fact larger than that of Cro-Magnons (prehistoric European Homo Sapiens), and also 10% greater than the modern human average.

    The main difference was the cranial shape. Neanderthal had a bigger occipital zone, meaning that his visual abilities (including the distinction of details and colours) were certainly better than that of modern humans.

    How different were Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons ?

    Scientists have long looked down on Neanderthals, claiming that it wasn't evolved enough to speak or to use tools like the Homo Sapiens. This has since been proven wrong by genetics. The very reputable Nature journal has published that Neanderthals were genetically equipped for language. Another study confirmed that Neanderthals could talk, based on the horseshoe-shaped structure in their neck.

    Numerous studies have shown that Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons used similar tools, and overalll had the same technology and lifestyle. Both buried their deaths, with similar ornaments, demonstrating the same level of sentiments and care.

    Do modern Europeans descend from Neanderthal ?

    The most deeply rooted misconception, still widespread in the scientific world, is that Neanderthal became extinct, without leaving any contribution to modern humans. This has been proven to be false too by genetic and morphological analysis.

    I have gathered here a series of link and quotes on the subject.

    A careful comparison of the physical apperance of modern humans in Europe, Asia and Africa shows that only Europeans, in particular northern Europeans, display morphological aspects typical of the Neanderthals. The lower proportion in southern Europe is attributed to the more recent Neolithic arrivals from the Middle East.

    DNA tests demonstrated that the Homo Neanderthalis did have reddish hair and blue eyes. It is possible that Europeans inherited fair hair, eyes and skin from Neanderthal, although our understanding of the genetic process is not good enough now to be conclusive.

    Other Neanderthal features found only in Europeans or Middle Easterners include prominent eyebrows, big eyes, strong jaws and wide shoulders.
    Last edited by Maciamo; 23-12-13 at 10:37.
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    I read somewhere that Homo sapiens were better at adapting than Neanderthals. For example, whilst Neanderthals used tools they didn't improve or on them. A spearhead from early neandethal development is the same as from a later period, yet in Homo sapiens there is an improvement in technology. Almost as if Neanderthals were less developed when it came to the abstract.
    Think on it, in 300 000 years Neanderthals never advanced beyond hunter gatherer. No towns, cities, writing. Yet the later Homo Sapiens have been around for less than 100 000 years and look at us now.

    Mmmmm... maybe they were better

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mycernius View Post
    Think on it, in 300 000 years Neanderthals never advanced beyond hunter gatherer. No towns, cities, writing. Yet the later Homo Sapiens have been around for less than 100 000 years and look at us now.
    Mmmmm... maybe they were better
    I don't think you can compare it like this. When Neanderthal disappeared, Homo Sapiens still lived pretty much in the same way. Neanderthal wasn't given a chance, as the Ice Age still made it impossible for civilisations to develop.

    The difference of adaptation might have been one of better coordination/strategy while hunting, a vital element when food is scare at the height of the Ice Age. Homo Sapiens might just have been more "social" and "group-minded", a trait of character usually associated with warmer climates (even for animals).

    Or it could simply have been diseases that Homo Sapiens brought from hot Africa to cold Europe and for which Neanderthal had no immunity, having always lived in cold climates. There are many possibilities, and it is likely a combination of these possibilities rather than a single one.

    Neanderthal did not entirely disappear though. Apparently about 1% of European DNA was inherited from Neanderthal. We are now certain that there were interbreeding, because of intermediary skeletons, but also because of real traces of DNA in modern humans.

    Apparently the first direct line of Neanderthal mtDNA (part of the X chromosome transmitted unchanged through the maternal line) was discovered recently thanks to the increased popularity of DNA tests for genealogical purposes.

    Studies so far have been vastly contradictory, but the Human Genome Project and Neanderthal Genome Project are both under way, so we should know more about the actual percentage of Neanderthal DNA in modern humans, as well as the difference by ethnic group, in a few years' time.
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    Here is a new reconstructed face of a Neanderthal from the National Geographic website.



    This is based on the DNA of a 40,000 year-old specimen found in Croatia. There were many subspecies of Neanderthal, and their genetic diversity could have been greater than that of all humans on Earth today. So there is a good chance that they also looked quite different from one region to another. We know from the bones that the northern and southern Neanderthal were in fact quite different.
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    National Geographic has a site section dedicated to Neanderthal with videos, photos and interactive programmes.

    On a separate note, recent excavations suggest that Neanderthals enjoyed a broader range of foods than thought. Big game is not what dominated their diet, at least in the Mediterranean coast of Europe.

    Quote Originally Posted by BBC
    Excavations in caves in Gibraltar once occupied by the ancient humans show they ate seal and dolphin when they could get hold of the animals.

    There are even indications that mussels were warmed to open their shells.
    It was previously assumed that only Homo Sapiens lived off the sea.
    Last edited by Maciamo; 23-09-08 at 17:46.
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    Why do reconstructions of Neanderthals always show them with ginger grass skirts for hair?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Derek Knatchbull View Post
    Why do reconstructions of Neanderthals always show them with ginger grass skirts for hair?
    Because remains of Neanderthals and DNA tests have proven that they were fair-haired, mostly ginger and red haired. They were blue-eyed and fair-skinned too, and this well before Homo Sapiens arrived in Europe and developed these traits. One can only wonder if fair hair and eyes in anatomically modern humans were not inherited through the occasional interbreeding with Neanderthals. These are not the only characteristics than modern Europeans share with Neanderthals.
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    I was told by someone that there was evidence of Neanderthals had successful done Craniotomy but I am having trouble find it. Could you tell me if thats true and where I might find it?

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    Quote Originally Posted by graith345 View Post
    I was told by someone that there was evidence of Neanderthals had successful done Craniotomy but I am having trouble find it. Could you tell me if thats true and where I might find it?
    I googled it, but I couldn't find any reliable reference to craniotomy by Neanderthals.

    I found the book Origins of Neurscience, by Stanley Finger mentioning that a 70,000 year-old Neanderthal skull from the Shanidar Cave in Iraq showed evidence of healed skull wounds (but not craniotomy).

    The book mentions a 10,000 year-old (Homo Sapiens) specimen found in France clearly shows that the "patient" survived the craniotomy for several years before he died.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post

    This is based on the DNA of a 40,000 year-old specimen found in Croatia. There were many subspecies of Neanderthal, and their genetic diversity could have been greater than that of all humans on Earth today. So there is a good chance that they also looked quite different from one region to another. We know from the bones that the northern and southern Neanderthal were in fact quite different.
    Do we know the differences between the northern and southern Neanderthal? Did both have fair hair/skin/eyes and all those other characteristics u mention in the other thread?
    Do we have any evidence of Neanderthals living in Greece?

    I've recently read this article about how blue eyes appeared in Europe after a genetic mutation on a single person 6.000-10.000 years ago (sorry i cant post links but u can easily google it). Does this contradict the theory of blue eyes being inherited by Neanderthals or does it enhance it?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marianne View Post
    Do we know the differences between the northern and southern Neanderthal? Did both have fair hair/skin/eyes and all those other characteristics u mention in the other thread?
    There are clear skeletal differences between northern and southern Neanderthals. Northern ones are heavier built and have more prominent traits. Southern ones, especially those from the Middle East, are closer to Homo Sapiens (maybe due to some slight intermingling). Neanderthals also vary widely in time. The proto-Neanderthals of 600,000 years ago have little to do with the late Neanderthals of 30,000 years ago.

    As for their pigmentation, I am not sure of the regional differences. Few specimens have been genetically tested, so there is still a big question mark regarding the depth of differences between Neanderthal subspecies.

    Do we have any evidence of Neanderthals living in Greece?
    Here is a List of Neanderthal sites. None of them have been found in or around Greece, but that doesn't mean that there isn't any. Neanderthals were nomads, so there is a high chance that they frequently passed through Greece and Anatolia.

    I've recently read this article about how blue eyes appeared in Europe after a genetic mutation on a single person 6.000-10.000 years ago (sorry i cant post links but u can easily google it). Does this contradict the theory of blue eyes being inherited by Neanderthals or does it enhance it?
    That is a very misleading article because there is more than one mutation responsible for blue eyes, and indeed there are many kinds of blue eyes. The genetics of eye colour is not yet fully understood, so it is too early to know exactly when the first humans developed blue eyes.

    I believe that the argument of the scientists who claimed that the mutation(s) for blue eyes appeared 10,000 years ago is because of the little diversity within the OCA2 gene, which affects eye colour. But it could as well be that a small group of individuals had blue eyes for thousands of years before that, and that they only mixed with other humans around 10,000 years ago, spreading the mutation at that time.

    It could also be that blue eyes was inherited though mating with Neanderthal about 30,000 years ago, but that the OCA2 mutations were fragmented between descendants, stayed dormant (because it is a recessive trait, requiring both alleles of the mutation) and that the first Homo Sapiens with both alleles was only born many millennia later. The possibilities are so vast that it sounds ridiculous to claim that "we know when it happened".

    We could know if Neanderthal was the source of the mutation by testing the DNA various specimens. The first complete Neanderthal genome should soon be ready. But that's only one specimen. We wouldn't learn more about the Neanderthal species with one genome than we would about the human species by testing a single individual. Only a small percentage of modern humans have blue eyes. It might have been the same with Neanderthal.

    So, in my opinion, the article you read neither contradicts nor enhance the theory that blue eyes were inherited from Neanderthals. We just don't know enough yet.
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    this was very informative.

    thank u

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    Here is a new study confirming that there were at least three distinct subgroups of Neanderthals (western Europe, southern Europe and Middle East).

    Neanderthal remains were found as far east as Uzbekistan, so it could very well be that a fourth Central Asian group existed. Considering that the pan-European haplogroup R1 originated in Central Asia, and that red hair also seem to have first appears there among modern humans, I wouldn't be surprised if at least one event of interbreeding between Homo Sapiens and Neanderthal took place in Central Asia (or maybe around the Caucasus).
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    Compare the two pictures of reconstructed Neanderthal above with the contemporary Cro-Magnon below (all Homo Sapiens are believed to have had dark skin, eyes and hair until at least 20,000 years ago, and maybe as recently as 10,000 years ago) :



    More info about this photo on Dienekes's blogspot.

    Comparing reconstructions like that make me feel even more strongly about modern Europeans having inherited some Neanderthal genes, such as for pigmentation, but also a lot of cranio-facial features (narrow, elungated head, big eyes with prominent eye-brows, high-bridged nose, etc.).
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    Here are more reconstructed faces of Neanderthals.



    This article on Mathilda's Anthropology Blog supports the presence of Neanderthalian admixture in modern Europeans, mentioning that 5% or less seems the norm in studies done so far.
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    Some of them could pass for modern Europeans! Well, after a good haircut and a bath of course

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    Archaeologists have discovered sculpted shells painted by Neanderthals 40,000 years ago. This is evidence of the use of jewellery, but also that Neanderthals could manufacture paint. The discoverer think that Neanderthals would also have painted their bodies.
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    http://ianjuby.org/neanderthal/neanderthalpages.htm

    Cephalic index:
    Krapina D 85.5
    Pithecanthropus 73.4
    Krapina C 83.7
    Spy I 72.2
    Cannstadt 82
    Nowosiolka 72
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    Brüx 69
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    Brünn 68.2
    Neanderthal 73.9
    Galley-Hill 63.4

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    http://www.andyblackard.com/data/CranialIndexStudy.htm

    There are some datas for Neanderthals.

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    This is based on the DNA of a 40,000 year-old specimen found in Croatia.
    Maciamo can you tell me the link which verify that it is based in the Vindija bones, because I need it?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Neander View Post
    Maciamo can you tell me the link which verify that it is based in the Vindija bones, because I need it?
    here and here, among other websites.
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    Maciamo, these webs don't tell that Wilma was reconstructed based on the DNA of Vindija neadnerthal, even here is not mentioned Wilma.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Neander View Post
    Maciamo, these webs don't tell that Wilma was reconstructed based on the DNA of Vindija neadnerthal, even here is not mentioned Wilma.
    Sorry, I thought you were talking about mtDNA. It wasn't clear from the quoted passage. I didn't say that this face was from Vindija. It is from El Sidrón in Asturias (northern Spain).

    The Vindija cave has the best preserved DNA though, which is why it is the one being used to test "the" Neanderthal Genome (well, one kind of genome, from a brachycephalic specimen very different from other Neanderthals).
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  24. #24
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    I've recently read this article about how blue eyes appeared in Europe after a genetic mutation on a single person 6.000-10.000 years ago (sorry i cant post links but u can easily google it). Does this contradict the theory of blue eyes being inherited by Neanderthals or does it enhance it?

  25. #25
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    Quote:
    I've recently read this article about how blue eyes appeared in Europe after a genetic mutation on a single person 6.000-10.000 years ago (sorry i cant post links but u can easily google it). Does this contradict the theory of blue eyes being inherited by Neanderthals or does it enhance it?

    You talk about the article I found?
    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,327070,00.html
    The Dane said that blue eyes were born 6000-10000 years ago in Europe.

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