Friday, March 28, 2008

The Last Neanderthal?


I may be the last Neanderthal ...
No, no, no, I'm not THAT old. And I don't mean it in the sense of being some kind humanoid throw-back, someone unable to cope with modern times, either.
So, why do I think I might be the last Neanderthal?
I am a fair-skinned redhead who wears make-up and loves to chat!
Let's back up a few years ...

One bright spot in my Jr-Sr High School years was when my parents subscribed to the TimeLife Nature Library Series, a set of wonderfully illustrated books containing a wealth of scientific information. A new book would arrive regularly, to be eagerly devoured by the budding young mind. All were inspiring; in particular, "The Primates", "Early Man", "Evolution" and "The Universe" had the profound impact of setting me on a path that still continues ... an interest in all things anthropological.

Moving away from home after high school, I took those four books with me. They are still with me today, 40-yrs later, prominently displayed on my bookshelves. Having changed my ideology forever, they feel like my oldest friends, and they continue to inspire me to keep up with anthropological research.

Now comes this current article, accompanied by one of the original beloved TimeLife illustrations, suggesting that Neanderthals may have worn make-up and talked! For decades, anthropologists have wondered if Neanderthal's verbal abilities extended beyond basic grunts & hoots. A fossilized Neanderthal hyoidal throat bone (the U-shaped bone that supports the tongue muscles and is theoretically necessary for human speech) is still hotly debated. But as the 2-pg linked article suggests, it is possible that the decoration of Neanderthal bodies and faces with artful pigments might be interpreted as suggesting speech.

Another article from October last year suggests Neanderthals were redheads. DNA extracted from two 50K-yr old Neanderthal skulls suggest they sported red hair and fair skin when they lived in Europe.

Neanderthal fossils have been surfacing for about 150-yrs. Enough fossils have emerged to show their lineage branched off from ours about 500K yrs ago, in Africa.

Fossils show they were much stockier than we are, heavily boned & heavily muscled with prominent eyebrow ridges, all features that became even more pronounced as they adapted to the brutal conditions of Ice Age Eurasia. They left Africa for Europe and Asia via the Middle East about 400K yrs ago, while our immediate ancestors stayed in Africa until about 50K yrs ago when the ice age abated enough to allow another migration out.

Besides fossils, Neanderthals left behind sophisticated stone tools (believe me, as I learned in trying to knock out a few for my Sr Zoo term project, they were very skilled -- my pitiful attempts would barely carve store-bought T-Bone steaks), evidence of fire use and animal skin clothing (absolutely necessary for the ice age), and even some indication of caring for weak or injured companions (many severely injured individuals survived for years after their debilitating injuries), as well as spiritual rites surrounding the dead (flowers were discovered in one neanderthal grave site).

They apparently also left behind some DNA with the MC1R gene. In sun-baked Africa, there is huge evolutionary pressure to retain a certain version of this gene that promotes dark skin pigment. In Europe, variations of this gene would have allowed lighter-skinned people to more efficiently produce Vitamin D in the sun-starved Ice Ages. One variant of this gene leads to red hair and pale, freckled skin. It is this variant of the gene that we share with Neanderthals.
Not many animals have red hair/fur. In the primate family, aside from some humans, there are orangutans and a rust-colored lemur. Among mammals, I can think of red foxes and red pandas (both of which have significant white areas), red deer and a few domestic dogs (both of which tend toward the reddish-brown), and possibly some extinct wooly mammoths (evidenced by bits found with a frozen Siberian baby mammoth). There are also some horses and cows with a reddish colored fur. Evolution does seem to use the gene responsible for this ginger coloration sparingly.

Another gene we share with Neanderthals (actually, we probably share about 99.5%), is the FOXP2 gene. A few yrs ago, geneticists discovered that people with a mutation in the FOXP2 gene suffer from a severe language deficit which prevents them from learning to speak. The newly examined Neanderthal DNA shows they share our version of the FOXP2 gene, the one that allows us to learn language. Facility with language is uniquely human.

Neanderthals went extinct roughly 25K yrs ago, after a considerable overlap with our species. "Went Extinct" is such a sanitized phrase. One can imagine the more mentally agile and socially advanced modern humans as they trekked out of Africa and encountered these primitive cousins. I don't think it is too wrong to presuppose a crafted, brutal genocidal conquest of the Neanderthal's territory, although in a mano-a-mano battle, the powerfully-built Neanderthal would've probably kicked the modern human's ass.

Anthropologists consider Neanderthals to have been members of the human family, but have found no evidence that they interbred with our ancestors. They are called an evolutionary dead-end. The fact that this flies in the face of known behavior of all humans who have found themselves in the historical position of conqueror has spurred many scientists to keep searching for vestigal Neanderthal genes that might prove such a link.

By now, you've probably guessed where I'm going. With all the evidence piling up, I am beginning to believe there may be a few Neanderthal genes still floating around in some of today's modern humans. These would be fair-skinned redheads who wear make-up and love to chat! Sadly, since I have no children, it will be up to other redheads to ensure that these traits do not go extinct. Redheads will need to keep producing redheaded talkative children who like to decorate their bodies and/or faces. Do it ... for science!

35 comments:

Fran said...

there there darlin' doing taxes can make you feel like a neanderthal. Funny thing we were talking about going through my Mom file cabinet & found the 1955 tax return-- a family member remarked, look at that! The form has not changed since then-- it still looks the same. Those tax people are not very creative.

D.K. Raed said...

Fran:
yes, I'm sure you're right, that MUST be the reason I was suddenly inspired to put down the tax files and wax about neanderthals. I expect to begin hooting & grunting soon! Any further regression will result in being unable to sign my tax return, not to mention the odd little caricatures of wooly rhinos & saber-tooth tigers drawn in the margins (ok, don't bother to correct me, I know those were drawn by cro-magnon, not neanderthal).

Hah, those tax forms do tend to look the same! I've saved the first ones I ever filed in 1969 just for the memories. Your mom has me beat by a mile, though. If someone could be teleported in time from back then to now, I'm sure they'd feel right at home filing their taxes ... probably wouldn't grasp AMT though (Alternative Minimum Tax -- hey, if it's an alternative, I choose NOT)!

Cart said...

Bear in mind, for most of us, Neanderthals would have been foreigners, and not just by borders but continents.
Having said that i have a friend in Iowa who maintains she's related to Cheeta or whatever Tarzan's chimp was. She could argue equally on shared genetic material.
Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against chimps or Neanderthals I even let my daughter marry an American.
I'm inclined to agree with fran, exposure to taxes can unduly tax the mind...

D.K. Raed said...

Cart:
I believe Neanderthals have been unearthed in SE Asia and even Indonesia. In those locations, lacking an ice-age influence, they never achieved the fully pronounced low-brow look we associate with Eurasian Neanderthals. However, when the first neanderthal fossils were discovered in the 1800's, scientists of the day went to great lengths to try to prove that australian aborigenes were actually neanderthals, not fully modern humans. It was en vogue to try & dismiss them that way. Let me just say this: if abo's were actually neanderthals, then we would have to relook at the whole human tree. They're not, of course, they are fully modern. but if they were, they would've blown the roof off the accepted brutish animalistic hominid throw-back most people use the word neanderthal to mean. To me, I would consider being called a neanderthal to be a compliment. Now, American (as you mention your daughter marrying), that is another story.

Cart said...

“I believe Neanderthals have been unearthed in SE Asia and even Indonesia” Well you might believe my redheaded friend, and I retain the right to be sceptical of the claim.
True I am no anthropologist, and there have been many curious finds in my local region, though not of that calibre on this continent. As for 1800's scientists, they refused to believe the evidence of their own eyes when they found the duck billed platypus.
Still, there is nothing I have read regarding Neanderthals that suggests they were any less worthy than homo sapiens, simply that they were less adaptive. Some recent studies suggest that there might have been some interbreeding, despite previous assertions that it would not be possible.
Actually my brother asserts that Neanderthals never left Port Macquarie, but I guess he is of the brutish animalistic hominid throw-back school of thought.

Having been otherwise diverted for the past little while it is great to be getting back to a bit of robust chatter! Thanks

D.K. Raed said...

Cart: my apologies, you are technically correct (which is to say, you are correct)! Some anthros have considered neanderthals to be a branch of Homo Erectus, and that was the basis of my flippant remark. It is Homo Erectus that made it to SE Asia & Indonesia (where they existed until being replaced by more modern humans in yet another migration out of Africa). Today however, most anthros consider neanders to be a separate species, Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis. In E. Asia, their territory did not extend beyond Uzbekistan in the south and borderline Siberia in the north. Their very name implies the closest possible DNA to us, even closer than chimps.

And you are right about strange findings in your locale. Mungo Man is very puzzling as well as Hobbit Man! And yes, there is a fossil skeleton found in Spain that has a combo of neander and sapien features. So far, he is the only one I've read about, although neanders in the middle east never really achieved the pronounced features of euro neanders & thus might form a basis to explore interbreeding.

Let's hope your brother is not right about Port Macquerie since he seems to be using the term in a derogatory sense! I hope he realizes neander brain cases were larger than ours, though with more "robust" (yes I got your double entendre) rear brain than frontal lobes, it's impossible to tell the nature of their thoughts.

Cart said...

“might form a basis to explore interbreeding.” Now that really is the story hereabouts. I told the bro they aren’t neader; they are just inbred, and the source gene pool was the one they were dumping all the broken bits.
In fact there is a new study being launched here, rather than recessive genes they are looking at regressive genes. The current theory is that a stream of this community is actually in the process of sliding, or crawling back into the primordia slime.
The loss of ambulatory abilities is becoming quite marked and pools of slime seem to be spontaneously appearing beneath some specimens.
Now my brother is trying to argue that it’s because these specimens are habitually inebriated to the state of near collapse. I expect the studies will look closely at cause and effect on this one; we are provisionally calling this new find homo intoxicatus.

D.K. Raed said...

LOL, Cart! Homo Intoxicatus! You'd better register that name soon. Quite an interesting theory about "regressive genes". I'm sure the slumping posture, the jutting neck/head, the beetling brow, the tendency to speak in grunts and clumsily knock things about, might seem to point towards a regression. But what are the "pools of slime spontaneously apearing beneath some specimens"? nevermind ... I think I know ... could we tentatively add a sub-species appendenge of "vomitus", "micturus", or "fecundus"? Homo Intoxicatus Vomitus has a certain savoirfaire.

Cart said...

D.K. I shall pass Homo Intoxicatus Vomitus on to the committee. They are currently debating the aka Pissheads. More time is spent on nomenclature than on research :(

A Ball of Light said...

great post & comments... i think i may actually have found a live example that may very well prove that in fact neanderthals did interbreed with homo sapiens sapiens... of course it could just be a Port Macquarie native who was kidnapped and forced to do circus like shows early in its childhood...
Robert J. Sawyer wrote The Neanderthal Parallax, a science fiction trilogy of books - Hominids (2002), Humans (2003), and Hybrids (2003) - goes even further in exploring that possibility. It was a great read, as are most of his other works.

D.K. Raed said...

Cart: Let me know what the vote is & I shall toast in their honor.

Balloflight: ugh, Bonaduce, gag ... such a cute kid, such a strange adult. I will look at the library for the SF trilogy you linked. Interesting concept, to imagine how neanders might've developed modern technology without agriculture & domesticated animals first. Their religion, or lack thereof, promises to be an excellent culture clash. thanks!

Spadoman said...

I just look for the scars on the knuckles, red haired or fair skinned or not. Those Neanderthals are well known for dragging their extremities. The make-up is also a dead giveaway. Sometimes subtle and unassuming, but other times clown like, with red lips to die for. Has anyone research the Neanderthal creation story? And is there such a thing?

I'm home. Just thought I'd come over and be a little silly. Hope all is good with you.

Peace to All.

dada said...

I always muse at science's exaggerated self-opinion.

Why, just imagine: Neanderthals may have worn make-up and actually been able to communicate with more than grunts and groans!

Of course they did. Sample Neanderthal conversation starter: "Where the hell'd you get that outrageous rouge, honey?"

And just imagine, after spending years, sometimes lifetimes with other Neanderthals, they grieved at their passing!

Last week I paused to observe several thousands of ants that had emerged from the winter. So many in fact, they had devised a "divided highway" in order to accommodate their vast numbers going about their work. (Oh, they were still going both directions on either side of their "highway" -- what the hell do we think? - they're smart as humans??!!)

But watching one particularly industrious ant with the most enormous load, headed back to the colony with it, I watched as other unburdened ants would pause a moment upon encountering this ambitious member. I got the distinct impression they were communicating with him although I couldn't hear them exchanging any audible sounds. After all, they're just freakin' insects. They got no friggin' vocal cords.

Dada ~ member of an evolutionary dead-end?

D.K. Raed said...

Spadoman:
welcome back! after I finish taxes, I'll be by. no one knows if neanders have a creation story unless you believe Jane Auel's series (Clan of the Cave Bear). I have to disagree about knuckle dragging since they did not ape-walk, and "scars on knuckles" could be the result of bare fist-fighting that is probably more the domain of sapien (not so) sapiens.

Dada:
the neander grave site w/flowers is still debated, with many saying the flowers just blew in, not intentional. they keep looking for other signs of grave goods to indicate neander burial rites. we just have such a hard time believing these dead-enders had a spiritual side. BTW, the flower grave is in modern day Iraq, another sign of a culture even older than the cradle-of-civilization one that ensued, the one we destroyed or allowed to be looted.

good point about communication not being the same as language facility! I wonder what those ants were saying to each other? On the ant hwy: hey antennae-face, no shoving, we all got our jobs to do here! To the ambitious load-carrier: hey, Samson, why don't we all just go back & watch the Queen lay eggs while you do all the work?

TomCat said...

Red that's a most interesting post. While I cannot confirm the Neanderthal traits still exist today, there is no doubt in my mind that the theory of devolution has demonstrated throwbacks to a much earlier stage. Consider Pithecanthropus Dubya.

dada said...

Or Karl Roverectus!

dada said...

D.K. - First of all, my apologies. I wrote the above earlier this morn after my 3rd cup of coffee; I was feeling particularly snarky.

Despite all the incredible things science has brought us, I am still p*ssed at the academic dogma many specialists/experts can't/won't step outside of for fear of their necks.

Another point of contention is the assumption, (based on what? our ability to build deadlier and deadlier weapons monkeys or porpoises can't -- and probably wouldn't if they could) we're the god-awfulest most advanced, best ever thing to hit this neighborhood of the cosmos yet because of our ability to write, to talk, and to kill each other?

Dada ~ genetically flawed. My aggression gene is too dominant; my dominance gene too aggressive. (Oh, and throw in my "God *gene*" and we have the perfect combination for total annihilation...let us pray for the ants and roaches 'cause it sure as hell doesn't look good for the monkeys and porpoises.)

D.K. Raed said...

Tcat:
I like that you put the "pithe" part first, for Dub is definitely more ancient ape than man ... no offense meant toward modern apes who I'm sure wouldn't allow Dub to pick the nits from their rear ends, even the parts they can't reach themselves.

Dada:
Roverectus must be the guy who escorted hustlergannonicus in & out the back door of the WH?

You raise EXCELLENT questions about the assumption of us being the pinnacle of creation. Personally, I think we are the failure of creation. Our big claim to fame, our vaunted language skills, haven't allowed us to fully communicate with ONE other creature. Other failures abound, most especially as you point out, our propensity to wantonly destroy life whenever we feel like it. Geo Carlin once said something about this planet one day shaking us humans off like a bunch of fleas. I guess it could happen, if we don't do the job ourselves first.

We are the insane ape, the life form which serves as the repository for all the failed bits that nature tried to discard, but which DNA so faithfully stores as great nonsensical spots on our genome. What if these long strings of nonsense are in fact not quiescent, but working somewhere in the background as a human thanatos feature?

ps, no apologies necessary; I found your ant observations most illuminating, but hope you didn't feed them any coffee ... they are already wired enough, especially when they sense something important happening up the line.

Cart said...

Fair go Red... "We are the insane ape, the life form which serves as the repository for all the failed bits that nature tried to discard, but which DNA so faithfully stores..."

That blows my Port Macquarie theory out of the water. That was the same pool these specimens chose. Mind you, I guess the joyful inbreeding might exacerbate matters a little.

enigma4ever said...

great post...and I always thought we would last forever...and this kind of reaffirms that we are durable....phew...

D.K. Raed said...

Cart:
hmmm, *joyful* inbreeding? I thought inbreeding was usually out of necessity, or possibly royal family wierdo stuff, not very joyful (but maybe I am prejudiced that way). Even if my thought about old unused DNA lying about is valid, I think your Port Macquarie theory is safe. It would just mean the regressors were somehow finding use for those old bits, not exactly regressing, just being resourceful.

Hey! I just found out a possible ancestor, not direct mind you, but a small side note to my family tree, was a transport to your area. Here's the snip:

Born in Lancaster Street, Lewes, East Sussex, England, John Levett was transported to Tasmania as a convict on the "Joseph Somes (I)" in 1846.

And so the geneology hunt continues ...

D.K. Raed said...

Enigma:
funny, I always thought redheads were pretty frail (at least on the outside; I know we are tough on the inside). But this does give new hope for durability. I mean if we redheads are carrying around some neanderthal DNA, we may yet outlast these blastedly self-important sapien sapiens.

ps, I almost hate to tempt fate by even saying this, but it's confirmed, my blogger comments are working again ... so far ...

Cart said...

Jeez, you are related to old Jo Somes? He never made it to Port, but my old GGgrandfather did sentence him to a lashing or two. Funny old bugger he was - not the ggg but Somes.

D.K. Raed said...

Cart:
I way I read it was Joseph Somes was the name of the transport ship? The relative (if he was a relative) was John Levett. He might've been a brother of a gggg to me. Tentative info, at best, but it showed up on a geneology search. And if he was anything like some of the current odd family sheep, I'm sure he deserved a good lashing!

Cart said...

It's years since I did my Tasmanian research, so long I've left all the notes behind with my Tasmanian brother who isn't all that interested in finding them :(
Levett rings bells, as does Somes... My old bloke who arrived in Van Deimans Land the same year actually stopped the lash in his Launceston posting.
We Carts are a sooky bunch, never did think violence does much more than inspire violence. That is a gene pool I'm thankful for.

pissed off patricia said...

What a great read this was. No red hair here. But I can talk a mile a minute.

D.K. Raed said...

Cart:
One of your ancestors being responsbile for stopping The Lash is very cool. But I still don't know what "sooky" means even though you tried to explain it before! I must be dense (neander genes).

PoP: you are half-way there, lassie! If you wear make-up or pigmented body decorations, you are 75% there (assuming "there" is anywhere you want to be). sometimes "red hair" is more a frame of mind, anyway.

Jolly Roger said...

Nuh-uh! You looks like you does cuz God made you looks like you does! I done heard Rod Parsley say so!

D.K. Raed said...

Jolly:
Welcome to the neanderthal cave. I'll probably regret asking, but who is this Rod Parsley, and why should I listen to him (better yet, why are you listening to him)? The only Rods I listen to are Rod Stewart, Rod Sterling, Roddy McDowell, etc.

enigma4ever said...

Ooooohhhhhhh nooooo Rod Parsley- Jollly where are you - we need to rescue you....you poor thing......

( ahem...here in the Bible Belt he is well- KNOWN....being a Bible thumper....and he is also a total nutjob...)

arcobalen0 said...

very interesting, I found your blog by case while I was searching for that Neanderthaler wax figure pic on the web, because we look alike :-D indeed I'm born this part of Germany, and I'm redhaired, with brown eyes, and white skin, and there's another thing I noticed: it looks as if they didn't grow much moustache, so do I!

D.K. Raed said...

well acrobalen, this is an old post, so I will just say maybe you should start a dating service for neander redheads! I don't know if that wax neander pic was accurate about lack of facial hair, but I do think they exaggerated the neander chin, since most neander models are distinctly chinless!

RJS said...

Hi,

I'm interested in your comments about John LEVETT on the "Joseph Somes" convict ship. Please contact me on ricksmith61@gmail.com as I am researching him and you probably looked at my website I'm interested in gaining an understanding of your relationship to him.

RJS said...

Hello again,

Can you please make contact to discuss John LEVETT and your connection even if it is only very small one.

I'm interested.

Kind regards
Rick

D.K. Raed said...

Rick, this is such an old post, so I will just briefly say here that there is probably NO connection from me to the John Levett who was transported on the Joseph Somes. The only link I found was tenuous, at best. My gr-gr-gr grandad, Jeremiah Levett, settled in Quebec Canada in the late 1700's. Of his family that stayed behind in England, there might have been a relative named John, but John is such a common name. ps, Jeremiah or his son (also named Jeremiah) moved across the US border into New York in the early 1800's & from then on their name was "Leavitt". Does that help? The Leavitts I'm related to eventually moved to Utah where they can be traced more definitively.

I admire you for trying to find out more about any possible historical connection. I have read your website
http://www.cis.utas.edu.au/users/rsmith/levett/ps01/ps01_185.html

which is full of fascinating info about a very colorful character who I might wish was part of my direct lineage! Ever thought about writing it as a novel?