Neanderthals human?

Razib Khan suggests that the fact that we could and did interbreed with Neanderthals shows that they were really ‘human’, whatever that means. I don’t think that is necessarily the case.

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150 Responses to Neanderthals human?

  1. ilkarnal says:

    Are the Bushmen human? Pygmies? Is a coyote a wolf? Does a pizzly bear shit in the woods, or in the snow?

  2. TWS says:

    Dogs breed with wolves, coyote, jackals and are all fertile. Can’t see how they are the same species.

  3. Jerome says:

    The ability to interbreed successfully is sometimes cited as the criterion of a species. As cited above, it may not accord with our notions of what constitutes a species, but it has the advantage of being well-defined. There are people who ant to expand the number of species, and not for scientific reasons. The lumber industry of the Pacific Northwest was largely destroyed on the pretext of protecting the “species” called the Spotted Owl, which is actually just a regional variant of the Barred Owl.

    • Karl Zimmerman says:

      Interbreeding is not cut and dry though.

      For example, there are “ring species” (IIRC, at least one gull and one salamander species) where the two most extreme populations cannot interbreed, but they can interbreed with all of the other populations within its range.

      Or two cichlid species which do not interbreed in the wild. However, given the female’s choice of mate is keyed to color, if you put them under lighting which makes males impossible to distinguish, they breed well and produce fertile offspring.

      Let’s not even get into botany, where hybridization is much more common, even between populations which diverged tens of millions of years ago.

  4. BucardoReal says:

    I think he’s right, humans are all members of the homo genre. Whether or not Homo Sapiens and Neanderthal are the same species, it is clear that we are different animals.

  5. I would have thought that we know enough now about thal DNA for you guys to agree on which definition of species you want to use, and settle the matter like Scientists — laser pointers at dawn or some such.

  6. MawBTS says:

    I guess it depends on what a human is. Lots of things can produce viable offspring outside the species line.

    The most dramatic example is the guinhen which is a cross between two birds of a different family – the guineafowl and the domestic chicken. They last shared a common ancestor 64 million years ago, but they’re still fertile.

    I still think we should try for a human/chimp.

  7. AppSocRes says:

    Are coyotes lupine? Dogs? Jackals? All can interbreed with wolves. All are canines. But that does not make them wolves or even wolf-like. Coyotes, dogs, and jackals all share a common descent and many traits with wolves. But these shared traits are not the critical ones that distinguish wolves from other canines. It is these critical, distinguishing traits that are scientifically important.

    Similarly, Neanderthals share a common descent with Homo sapiens sapiens and Neanderthals obviously interbred with the ancestors of some current Home sapiens sapiens clades. However, that does not imply that Neanderthals are not fundamentally different from modern humans in scientifically critical ways. Interesting questions that have yet to be answered are: Did Neanderthals have anything resembling human speech, music, art? Did Neanderthals have sexual divisions of labor similar to those found in Homo sapiens sapiens? Why did Neanderthals apparently never develop technologies like the bow and arrow? Why dis Neanderthals vanish from the scene after the appearance of anatomically modern humans? I respect Razib Khan but in this case I think he’s engaging in a semantic game with no scientific import.

    • Lesley Robinson says:

      Pure Australian Aboriginals almost look like a different species.

      • Jim says:

        They didn’t develop bow and arrows.

      • Sandgroper says:


        • Jim says:

          They had bow and arrows?

          • Sandgroper says:

            No, sorry Jim – I was saying bullshit to Lesley Robinson.

            But on your point, try knocking down a kangaroo with a bow and arrow. Now try knocking down a kangaroo with a hardwood spear hurled forcefully using a spear thrower. Now tell me why they would want to develop bows and arrows.

            • gcochran9 says:

              With a good bow, considerably greater range. Bows took a long time to show up in the Americas, though.

              • Sandgroper says:

                I used to hunt grey kangaroos to eat by stalking them at dusk, when they come out to eat after the heat of the day has subsided (really difficult – they have very sensitive hearing) and shooting them with a single shot 0.22 rifle. The upper part of a kangaroo is a really difficult target; their heads and upper bodies are very small; most of the weight of the animal is in the hind legs and tail. Hit one, and even with a pretty good shoulder shot, it would take off and go for miles at high speed before falling down dead. The lower part of the body is concealed by vegetation when they are feeding in wheat fields, but even if you hit one in the lower body with a long rifle 0.22 bullet, it won’t slow it down much. It certainly won’t knock it down, or hamper it from taking off.

                I used to take a particularly smart sheepdog with me, or more correctly she would take me with her, lead the way and find where the kangaroos were for me, get me to within close enough range but without getting so close that we would spook them (so still pretty far away) – then she would stop, look back at my face (I suppose to check that I had seen them – dogs do look back to check human reactions, wolves don’t), then look back at the kangaroos and wait for me to take my shot, and then take off flat out running after the wounded kangaroo and find it for me in the dark when it finally hit the deck, dead. Her incentive was that she and her pups would get the upper part and guts of the kangaroo, of course. All the meat and fat I wanted was in the loins, hind legs and tail (kangaroo meat is very low fat compared to beef, except for the tail, which is high in fat, and makes excellent soup and stew).

                Not anthropomorphising, but I got the sense that the dog got as much satisfaction from our team effort as I did. After all, that was her job, working as part of a man-dog team herding sheep; hunting kangaroos with a human partner was just an extension of what she had been trained to do. She wasn’t friendly or affectionate at all, she was a working dog, not a pet and didn’t welcome being patted, but she did engage very enthusiastically whenever I was going somewhere, and particularly if I was carrying my rifle. She was always along for the ride with me, whether I actually wanted her there or not.

                Of course, I could have more easily hunted kangaroos at night with a spotlight – then they will just sit up dazzled, and you can walk right up to them and shoot them point blank in the head. But where’s the satisfaction of your hunting instinct in that? Where’s the skill; the man-dog teamwork (which, with a really smart dog, is a lot of fun and very satisfying)? There isn’t any. I did that with rabbits, when they were dazzled by my car headlights, but rabbits are just rabbits – OK to eat, but hunting them is no challenge.

                I’m thinking that hunting megafauna with arrows would be really difficult; heavy spears would be a lot better. I’d guess those beautifully crafted Clovis spear heads were for bringing down very big animals. Amerindians probably didn’t bother to get bows until the game they hunted got smaller. Even then, hunting bison with bows must have been pretty challenging; somewhat easier once they got horses.

                One tip on hunting kangaroos – if you bring one down, inspect it carefully for ticks before picking it up and carrying it home on your shoulders. Kangaroo ticks transfer very readily to humans, and seem to most like to attach themselves just behind your genitals, which you definitely don’t want. Also, if you have to sleep out at night in the bush, don’t sleep under a tree – kangaroos rub the ticks off themselves by scratching against trees, so the ticks wait in the trees for another victim to attach themselves to, and a human will do them just fine.

              • Jim says:

                So in a battle a bunch of guys with bow and arrows would have a big advantage over a bunch of guys with spears. In the Indian Wars in the American West the US soldiers try to keep at a distance away from their Indian foes so as to be out of arrow range but within gun range.

              • Jim says:

                American buffalo herds did not migrate on predictable routes and moved too fast to be followed on foot. Major hunting of the buffalo did not begin until after horses became widely available to Amerindians which was basically after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

              • DDeden says:

                Southern African Bushmen used lethal poison on arrows for antelope, Congo Pygmies used paralytic poison on arrows for arboreal monkeys. Did Australian Aborigines used poisoned weapons?

      • Sandgroper says:

        Aboriginal Australians also had the spear thrower, and hardwood spears with barbs attached by various ingenious means, plus fishing spears with intricately carved barbs. Plus fish traps, and complicated processing to turn toxic plants into edible food. For how long is problematic – wooden artefacts don’t survive for long periods of time.

        Plus advanced rock paintings, some dated back to > 30,000 years before present, depicting various animals in readily recognisable form. Plus musical traditions. Plus long range trade routes.

        But the fact that they even made it to Australia suggests that about 60,000 years ago they had amongst the most advanced technology on earth, unless you buy the “single pregnant female accidentally washed up on a beach” bullshit.

        To suggest that they don’t fit the definition of anatomically modern humans is just either blatant racism or stupidity.

        • crew says:

          Of course they are anatomically modern humans with possibly more Denisovan genetic contributions than other groups.

          Having seen what were called full-blood Aborigines in the north of Australia many years ago they were unmistakably human and many white and Chinese males found it possible interbreed with them.

          But the fact that they even made it to Australia suggests that about 60,000 years ago they had amongst the most advanced technology on earth,

          They seem to have stagnated somewhat since then.

          • Sandgroper says:

            Retrogressed, actually. Some of the technology they must have had then they subsequently lost. Tasmanians forgot how to fish.

            • savantissimo says:

              They also couldn’t make boats or fire any more (they could keep a fire going, though) and seem to perhaps have not have even been the same species as us: very few offspring with Whites, few or none of these offspring seem to have been fertile, the present claimed descendants of Tasmanians seem to trace their lines to an Australian Aboriginal woman. Tasmanian skeletons don’t seem to be on display anywhere, even photographs of skeletons are almost absent. No DNA studies that I have been able to find, either. The results would have little chance of advancing the narrative that all groups are equal.

              • gcochran9 says:

                Most of this is false – no reason to suspect that Tasmanians weren’t interfertile. Who started this nonsense?

              • DDeden says:

                Ember carrying was the norm for ancient rainforest peoples (eg. Congo Mbuti Pygmies, Andamaners, Tasmanians); fire-starters developed as their later descendants adapted to drier climates where fuel was less common.

            • DDeden says:

              Tasmanians did not forget how to fish, they fished like Congo Mbuti fisherwomen, catching by hand (noodling) in small brooks that they put weirs in to block fishes egress.

          • jamzw says:

            It’s amazing some of the things that can be accomplished with a 60 IQ, especially considering the cluelessness of so many clever people. But using advanced technology to get to Australia at an ice age maximum wasn’t one of them.

            • DDeden says:

              I don’t know what you mean, but Pygmies have the largest brains of all humans proportionate to body size, and Tasmanians appear to have been Pygmies mixed with Denisovans like the Papuan Yali of Balein valley & Queensland Barinean. The Paleolithic Pygmy diaspora was the first AMHs dispersal outside of Africa-Arabia, they inverted their waterproof dome huts (mongolu@Mbuti: moonbowl:domicile:dome-shield -> arigolu@India:coracle:daybowl) to float across bodies of water between isles including Phu Quoc VN (domestication of wolf isolate to ridgeback to pull their bowlboats),(Sumatra=Xyua+mBatwa=Sumbawa=Babwa/Papua@Yali=Mbabaram@Queensland=Mamanwa@Philippines.) Only after sago processing (oldest pancakes) in Papua developed from grub hunting did boats evolve beyond the wicker coracle, first the rough bark canoe (Pioneers: Australians, Tasmanians, Yahgan of Tierra Del Fuego, Piraha of Amazon, Ojibwe of NE NA) followed by invention of the hafted-stone adze followed by the wooden dugout canoe which became widespread eventually.

              • gcochran9 says:

                Melanesians and Australian Aborigines are not part-Pygmy. We have the genetic facts: that’s false. There is every chance that the same was the case for Tasmanians. Since there are a fair number of part-Tasmanians, anyone sufficiently determined could check this out.

              • DDeden says:

                GC: “Melanesians and Australian Aborigines are not part-Pygmy. We have the genetic facts: that’s false. There is every chance that the same was the case for Tasmanians.”
                I refer to Papuan Yali, Australian Barrinean-Mbabaram, Tasmanian, Andamanese and perhaps Philippine Mamanwa as having least phenotypically changed from the original AMHs tropical rainforest belt Pygmy wave of dispersal +65ka (pre-74ka? – Toba volcano). Sixty five thousand years in an entirely new geographic environment produced much genetic change, so of course their genomes vary significantly from each other and from today’s Congo Pygmies, and more closely resemble other Melanesians and Australians. They CAN’T closely resemble today’s pygmies of the Congo genetically due to different mutations selected for by nature since their ancestors split away sometime before 80ka.

                The two Pygmy fossils at the Narmada River, central India, one dated 80ka, may have retained DNA indicating the ancient shared genome of these first OOA AMHs pre-Denisovan contact people.

                Some people with apparent phenotypic retentions:

                Laos: FOSSILS section:
                TPL1″ It was identified as belonging to an anatomically modern human with distinct Sub-Saharan African features. As of 2017, it provides the earliest skeletal evidence for the presence of Homo sapiens in mainland Southeast Asia.[1]
                TPL2 mandible was found lower down in the same stratigraphic unit as TPL1, and represents a mature adult that combines archaic human features such as a robust mandibular corpus and small overall size, with modern human traits like a developed chin.[7][8]” 3 fossils are dated between 70ka and 48ka.

                Note: my ref. to “Pioneers” was in regard to later waves, not the Pygmy diaspora.

              • gcochran9 says:

                Look, all people outside Africa are genetically closer to each other than any of them are to African Pygmies. For that matter, everybody outside Africa is genetically closer to Bantus or Nilotics than to Pygmies – Pygmies diverged from other populations a long time ago.

                The Negritos and related people of Southeast Asia (Andaman Islanders, Mamanwa, etc) are genetic closer to Chinese ( or Norwegians) than they are to African Pygmies. A lot closer.

                Narmada fossils: very incomplete and poorly understood.

            • DD'eDeN says:

              Thanks, Greg, you proved my point.

    • ohwilleke says:

      “Did Neanderthals have anything resembling human speech, music, art?”

      There is evidence of Neanderthal art and a Neanderthal flute, and they would have had high pitched voices. But, H.s.s. had more art and more music in all likelihood. It is hard to compare language since we have no attestations one way or the other.

      “Did Neanderthals have sexual divisions of labor similar to those found in Homo sapiens sapiens?”

      They are more sexually dimorphic than H.s.s., so almost surely yes.

    • Deckin says:

      What are the ‘critical, distinguishing traits’ that ‘distinguish wolves from other canines’? Wolf essence?

  8. tautology says:

    gcochran, do you think that Neanderthals were significantly less competent than modern hunter gatherers? I remember you mentioning Aboriginees having essentially Neanderthal toolkit until some admixture event. Presumably that did not happen for taismanian ones…. Were they inhuman?

    I do not think so, we would have thought them human in almost every conception. At what difference are you hinting at?

    • gcochran9 says:

      Settlement densities for Neanderthals look to have been ~ 5-fold lower than among later human hunter-gatherers in the same territory. No sign of atlatls, bows, nets, snares. No sign of sophisticated methods of food preservation.

      • tautology says:

        Interesting. Would be fascinating to see one of them alive, the uncanny valley of psychological traits would probably even more eery than the physical one. Why were they so dumb? Just lower population size slowing down accumulation of positive traits/ generally fucked up because of mullers ratchet?

        • Ursiform says:

          Dumb compared to what? Not compared to 99.9999% of other species.

        • jamzw says:

          They were two and one half times stronger than modern humans. Spears and clubs do nicely. If you are human, they won’t do nicely. Neander was large brained, but selected for strength, not cleverness, so it was the meek inheriting the earth.

          • gcochran9 says:

            Early modern humans were similarly robust.

          • DDeden says:

            There were two non-stone items made by early hominins that “made us human”, the short thrusting spear/digging stick and the wicker concave broadleaf shingled roundshield/dome hut (lifted for egress, no doorway, sunshade/rainshed/hunting hide, with selection for invisible audible intragroup vocalization = language); both technologies also used (in different form) by female chimps spearing bushbabies in hollow trees (homologous to Pygmies spearing antelope hidden in hollow logs (ref. C. Turnbull) and who build wicker bowl nests with broadleaf lining for their infants. Robustness was a result of changing from arboreal rainforest upright biped (20ma Morotopith) to groundbased rainforest upright biped, Central Africans have the densest bones of all AMHs. Enlarged AMHs resulted from leaving the rainforest, same as the small 5-toed forest elephant evolving into the huge 4-toed savanna/steppe/ straight tusked elephant in parallel with small 5-toed eohippus of rainforest to huge 1-toed steppe equuids eg. clydesdales.

            • gcochran9 says:

              There’s zero evidence that AMH originated in rainforests, which are a moderately crummy/difficult place to live. How do you know this? Vas you dere, Charlie?

              • DDeden says:

                Multiple lines of evidence (architectural, linguistic, technological, closest ape kin…). We were delivered from this “Green Hell” via (biological & cultural) evolutionary adaptation. Nein, Erasmus, but our ancestors certainly were. BTW, Evenki share MTDNA with Mamanwa.

              • gcochran9 says:

                “Multiple lines of evidence (architectural, linguistic, technological, closest ape kin…)”: horseshit. Architectural?!? Linguistic?!? Fossilization is rare in rain forests – acidic soil. While we have lots of hominid fossils from East and South Africa ( non-rain forest). Moreover, rain forests have low biological productivity, from our point of view. Most products of photosynthesis are locked up in wood, indigestible by mammals ( and people). Savannas produce grass, also mostly cellulose but which can be digested by most mammalian herbivores. which we find tasty.

              • DD'eDeN says:

                Greg, I’ve studied & worked in tropical rainforests 40 years. I know them. With the shield and the spear, our ancestors conquered earth, starting at home under the multi-tier canopy. Stones, bones & genomes are useful guides, but paleo-etymology & primitive shelter analysis are necessary to get a good picture of Human prehistory.

              • gcochran9 says:

                You’re not making much of an argument.

              • Anonymous says:

                GC: “Most products of photosynthesis are locked up in wood, indigestible by mammals ( and people). Savannas produce grass, also mostly cellulose but which can be digested by most mammalian herbivores. which we find tasty”.

                Cooked ungulates, tasty; raw ungulates, not so much. Ripe is usually tastier.

                Wild grasses were mostly inedible to hominins, so little competition for food with ungulates. The few primates habitually on the savanna tend to eat grass, run like dogs, have enormous canines and smallish brains. Our ancestors didn’t spend much time exposed there until spears & shields and fire control were advanced, fairly late.

                However, on the rainforest floor, hominins competed directly with forest hogs and forest antelopes, etc. for mast of fallen nuts, fruits, mushrooms, tubers. This competition drove evolution of shields & spears. To access abundant ripe foods, they needed to prevent competitors, which by the way, were tastier when mixed with the other foods (meat & potatoes).

                Ever munch a bark-beetle grub or wood boring grub? That is how non-coracle boats evolved, Pygmy women (~Yali/Baliem) in Papua seeking high-protein grubs in ripe high-starch stems of Sago palms developed special tools to separate and mush the pith into pancakes (proto-adze, bamboo sluice) leaving a long split hollow rind/bark hull which then evolved into bark canoes and then log dugouts.

              • gcochran9 says:

                There is not one scintilla, jot, or iota of evidence supporting your thesis.

              • DDeden/DD'eDeN/Anonymous/'Charlie' says:

                Greg, my goal here was to inform, not to win arguments. It is your blog, so your win, naturally. Thanks for allowing me to express my scientific opinion in an informal manner.

      • szopeno says:

        Atlatls: 30k BP. Bow: 10k before present. Neanderthals went extinct some 40k ago, right?

      • Sandgroper says:

        Greg made up the Aboriginal admixture event. It didn’t happen.

        • gcochran9 says:

          I was misinformed. But it is a fact that until about 5000 years ago, Aboriginal tech was very simple.

          • Sandgroper says:

            In fairness, you were not the only one. We all were, until access to a lot more Aboriginal genomes became available because Aboriginal people (originally a group of women – why is it always the women?) decided to trust scientists. The outcome was that they were thrilled by the findings, and so the flood gates have opened now, never to be closed again.

            So far as we know, from stone tech, which was pretty simple prior to that. They achieved something of a cultural revolution (no, not that kind) in stone tech about 5,000 ya. Well, cultural innovation has to happen somewhere sometime, by somebody – it doesn’t necessarily need to be some unknown external party.

            But a lot of Aboriginal tech was not in stone, it was in less durable materials that do not survive very long periods of time. So we can’t really know how complex their toolkit was going how far back. It needed to be somewhat basic, obviously, because they were nomadic (apart from a few semi-sedentary groups in locations where year-round food supplies were plentiful enough) and could only carry so much stuff.

            • gcochran9 says:

              The non-durables problem is ubiquitous: maybe neanderthals made cool stuff out of leather. No needles, though.

              In terms of how well they adjust to and perform in a modern society, I’ve had people tell me that the aboriginals do worse than anyone else.

              • Sandgroper says:

                Take a ‘full blood’ guy out of the bush, where he has successfully managed to survive into adulthood, or even out of a small country town environment, and plant him in the middle of a modern city, and you can virtually guarantee that within days, not weeks, he will have managed to get himself into some kind of trouble with the law bad enough for them to lock him up.

                Adjust? No, they can’t. They try.

              • Sandgroper says:

                Conversely, put me in the middle of the Western Desert with a broken down vehicle, and I will survive for a maximum of 3 days, unless I’m lucky enough for a group of Abos to find me and keep me alive.

                But no modern person in his right mind would actually want to go and try to live in the Western Desert.

              • gcochran9 says:

                A young guy can last longer in the desert than that: most of the crew of the Lady Be Good survived in the Sahara for 8 days [ marching !] with only a single canteen of water among them.

                But the comparison doesn’t mean anything: the point is that they [aboriginals] do poorly in a modern environment. Saying that they could do well, better than Europeans, in a different environment, one that no longer applies, doesn’t do anything to make their current problems go away. The environment that actually exists, the one they actually have to negotiate, is especially important.

              • Jim says:

                Yes, it would certainly be very surprising if Australian Aborigines were not well adapted to their traditional way of life which they followed for many thousands of years. However they seem very poorly adapted to life in a modern high tech society.

              • Sandgroper says:

                That was the point I was trying to make.

                You only need to look at incarceration rates, disease rates and life expectancy to figure out that they are not doing well. And that includes people with a fair bit of European admixture. And there’s no solution, that I can see. In the remote communities in the north, a form of ‘benevolent Apartheid’ is operating, but it’s not working. Those people do not live long, happy, healthy lives.

          • Sandgroper says:

            For example, stone headed spears were not the norm, and appear mostly to have been specialised items for the ritual killing of people for committing trangressions or whatever. Most spears were hardwood (of which Australia has an abundance, including some woods so hard you can’t hammer nails through them) which were further hardened using fire, and then with barbs of kangaroo bone or other materials attached using fibres, human hair and/or plant resins serving as glue.

            Spears without a heavy stone head fly better, and if a hardwood spear thrown with a spear thrower (which is shaped to serve double purpose as a carrying container, or as a shield against an enemy’s spears) is good enough to bring down a big kangaroo, why bother inventing a better stone head that takes longer to make and is more difficult to make? I think it might answer the question of why Aboriginal people never picked up bows and arrows from Torres Strait Islanders, with whom there was surely contact in the northernmost parts of Queensland – a hardwood spear has a lot more knockdown power than an arrow, when you are hunting kangaroos.

            In the early days of European settlement, an Aboriginal warrior with a spear thrower and a few hardwood spears had as much fire power and accurate range as a single trooper with a muzzle loading musket. The problem was, the troopers didn’t play fair – they ganged up. And a musket volley from a whole rank of troopers will beat a couple of Abo guys with spears every time, although a couple of troopers might get killed in the process.

          • IndoStrayn Treks? says:

            Though the early finding may not be quite right, there are still results with Australian Aboriginal groups to be explained (the death of aberrant results between Australian and Indian samples has been much exaggerated):

   – “The gateway into Remote Oceania: new insights from genome-wide data” – September 2017 (so very current)


            “Interestingly, with Papuan ascertainment panels there is 15- 20% less Papuan and 5% more Indian ancestry inferred in Australia, which is supportive of previous claims of Indian gene flow to Australia (Pugach et al. 2013).”

            ” In addition, the aboriginal Australian samples reveal a baffling signal of admixture, showing both Papuan and Bougainville ancestry components in roughly equal proportion; the interpretation of this signal is considered below.”

            “This is probably the case for the aboriginal Australians in this dataset, who contrary to numerous previous studies (e.g McEvoy et al. 2010; Pugach et al. 2013; Malaspinas et al. 2016) appear to have admixed NGH and Bougainville ancestry (Fig. 2). However, none of the f3 scores are significant for the aboriginal Australians, and so the most likely explanation is that Australia, NGH, and Bougainville all share ancestry but NGH and Bougainville experienced more genetic drift after population divergence.”

            ” The residuals (Fig.S10B)” for admixed tree structure “show the greatest error for: a) the Australian Aboriginals vs Indian and European populations” (i.e. without edges between these populations). Their main focus is trying to resolve structure among Oceanian populations, but note they are motivated to attempt admixture edges between India and Australia in their Fig S11B.

            (Above is one of the big two comprehensive papers this year on Oceania, along with “A Neolithic expansion, but strong genetic structure, in the independent history of New Guinea”)

            • Sandgroper says:

              Key word is ‘motivated’. Even as a kid, I was struck by the apparent similarity of appearance between some Aboriginal Australians and some Dravidians. People have been theorising about and trying to demonstrate a link ever since. It’s definitely not a slam dunk, though, although people are motivated to keep trying.

              It is known that there were at least infrequent trade contacts (shells and stuff) between Aboriginal people in far northern Queensland and some Torres Strait Islanders. It would be surprising if there weren’t. Given that there were contacts, some interbreeding would also not be a surprise. But the Australians don’t seem to have been interested in picking up any technology from the Islanders (who had bows, and horticulture), given that they didn’t do it. Whether they got any more sophisticated stone tool tech from them at some point is an open question – I have never seen anyone try to demonstrate that they did, but it’s not impossible.

              It is beyond question that what Greg said is true – about 5,000 years ago, Aboriginal stone tool technology became more sophisticated, which might have enabled a move into more arid areas (think of the stone tool equivalent of a Swiss army knife). But the jury is still out of where that came from, as is the origin of Pama-Nyungan languages, which subsequently swept most of the continent.

              It’s a puzzle. We need more data.

        • JerryC says:

          The shipwrecked Indian guys never happened? What a shame, that was a great story!

          • Sandgroper says:

            It was, but no, it didn’t happen. It was an error in the analysis of one Aboriginal sample of hair from a museum.

            Now there are lots of Aboriginal samples, I think largely due to the efforts of Eske Willerslev in getting them on board, and now there is a good case to be made for sampling widely all around Australia to characterise the regional variation. Because there is no doubt that there is some. I know that – when you have seen enough Aboriginal people from different regions, it is visually obvious that there is a lot of variation, and not just due to admixture.

          • Sandgroper says:

            So, regional semi-isolation for long periods. If you understand the geography/climate variation in Australia, it’s not hard to see how that happened.

  9. dearieme says:

    “really ‘human’, whatever that means”: science tells us nothing about the meaning of words. Nor can you deduce facts from conjuring with words.

  10. MawBTS says:

    If we define “human” as “something that does what a human does” then Razib is probably right.

    Imagine a Turing test. You are talking to a person on the other side of a wall – they could be a Neanderthal, or they could be a Cro-Magnon man. Using questions, you have to unmask them. (Both the Neanderthal and the Cro-Magnon man speak English and were raised in the same culture.)

    Would you be able to do it? Would there be any question you could ask that would expose the speaker as a Neanderthal?

    I can’t think of one. They might be slower or stupider. But how would I know I wasn’t talking to a Cro-Magnon with a low IQ?

    • ohwilleke says:

      There is a fair amount of indication that Neanderthals were less plastic and more hard wired, and hence less able to innovate and come up with novel approaches to new situations. The duration of their archaeological cultures is ca. 10x longer (i.e. much more static than modern humans), their geographical range was narrower, and their last archaeological culture may fairly be attributable to either imperfect imitation of Cro-Mags or hybrids in their population. On the other hand, they may have been sharper than humans at stuff like throwing spears at moving targets and similar tasks – I’d bet they would be better at football than any modern human, if not very creative. I suspect you could distinguish them in a Turing test type setup.

  11. Ursiform says:

    Why wouldn’t AMHs and Archaic Humans all be humans?

  12. ohwilleke says:

    It is strictly a question of definition and perspective. If human is defined to mean “genus homo” then Neanderthals are absolutely human. If human is defined to mean “homo sapiens sapiens” then Neanderthals are not human. If human is defined to mean species “homo sapiens” then it depends upon whether you think Neanderthal are “Homo Neanderthalis” or “Homo sapiens neanderthalis” which has been an active subject of debate in paleo-anthropology for at least a decade or two. The case that they are the same species is that they have a common ancestor not so far back and can produce fertile offspring. The case that they are different species is that there is evidence that Haldane’s law applies to human-Neanderthal hybrids.

    • gcochran9 says:

      As long as you define your terms… It would not surprise me if resurrected Neanderthals gave a deeply alien impression, were hard for most humans to empathize with: maybe we wouldn’t [couldn’t ?] understand them nor they us. I’m fairly sure that such deep mutual incomprehension would not prevent successful, even enthusiastic sexual intercourse.

      • Jim says:

        To some extent that might describe the reactions of Europeans and Australian Aborigines to each other.

        • Jim says:

          I recall reading somewhere that when Australian Aborigines first encountered Europeans they thought they were spirits, not real people.

        • AppSocRes says:

          “I’m fairly sure that such deep mutual incomprehension would not prevent successful, even enthusiastic sexual intercourse.”

          To a LARGE extent that might describe the reactions of contemporary US men and women to each other.

      • caethan says:

        One wonders where the kids would fit in after that.

        • Frau Katze says:

          If Europeans have a small amount of Neanderthal DNA some offspring of a Neanderthal / human mating must have lived to grow up and have their own offspring with humans.

          How else could we get their DNA?

          • Philip Neal says:

            Indeed. At the very point of admixture there must have been children who were exactly half sapiens and half Neanderthal, and they must have been thought sufficiently human to be worth raising in a society of hunter-gatherer bands which were presumably too small to support the existence of separate slave or servant castes. (I do not claim to be any kind of authority on this and correction will be gladly accepted.)

            • Anthony says:

              Unless they were considered sufficiently Neanderthal to be raised in a Neanderthal society, where they then bred with full sapiens, who accepted the quadroon child into their society. Though your original point stands, despite the current existence of groups with no Neanderthal ancestry who don’t want to raise children who have about 1/64 Neanderthal ancestry.

      • jb says:

        I think that is the best criterion! If we could transport a population of ancient Neanderthals through time, and they seemed to us as human as, say, Australian Aborigines, then that fact would make them human, in the most useful sense of the word. However if they came across, to give one possible example, as squeaky-voiced over-muscled autistic weirdos with a language that fell outside the parameters of all existing human language (much as the vocalizations of chimps and bonobos are notably different), then it would be reasonable to see them as something other than human (although not necessarily as animals).

      • dave chamberlin says:

        Razib is right. But still, modern man passed a threshold that allowed him to easily replace the Neanderthals and the Denisovans. Stone tools went from a crude few to a whole tool kit. All kinds of creations were in moderns grasp that were way beyond that of Neanderthals. They were far more successful in every activity that involved intelligence.

        I sometimes read from supposed experts that Neanderthals were our equals. I don’t but it for a second. They chewed their teeth down to nubs turning hides into clothes. Moderns were way more ingenious, making all kinds of tools for every need.

        Breeding occurred, so Razib is right. But once man had modern smarts he brushed aside the archaic competition like it wasn’t even there.

        • Ursiform says:

          How do you know it happened “easily”?

          • dave chamberlin says:

            An honest answer is i don’t know, nobody does. We don’t know when ATM’s held an enormous advantage over archaics. Maybe they never did. Maybe they simply reproduced a tad bit more successfully and this slight advantage made all the difference long term, I don’t know. I look at the art left in European caves, some of it 30,000 plus years old and l have the same reaction Picasso had. Wow, these guys weren’t just artists, they were genius artists by todays standards.

            Neanderthals might have been brainy but if they didn’t use their brains very well then guess what, they couldn’t. The question is when moderns were bright enough to dominate the competition. We need more evidence to know. The next cool piece of scientific evidence from this time period is probably going to be a further progression in archaic genetics involving mitochondrial DNA left on cave floors where ancient humans lived or maybe just stayed long enough to pee. They can’t recover nearly intact DNA but just the far more frequent and vastly simper mitochondrial DNA. This is also conjecture but a lot of sharp people are very excited about this particular direction of inquiry. Stay tuned.

        • szopeno says:

          The innovation is driven by the “smart fraction”. My conjecture: the warmer regions supported larger populations for Hunter-gatherers; hence, more people from smart fraction. Saying that humans had larger densities in the same regions as neanderthals is not a contradiction, since they could first dwell in regions allowing for higher densities, which allowed more above-average smart humans, which allowed to create better toolkit which then enabled higher densities in colder regions.

      • tim hadselon says:

        I think he’s describing the situation between men and women ya’ll.

      • ohwilleke says:

        “It would not surprise me if resurrected Neanderthals gave a deeply alien impression, were hard for most humans to empathize with: maybe we wouldn’t [couldn’t ?] understand them nor they us.”

        Sort of like people from Utah or Alabama.

        • Sandgroper says:

          The young Georgia State Trooper who arrested Reese Witherspoon seemed like a polite enough young man, but on the Youtube video I’m damned if I could understand a single word he said.

          If I ever go to Georgia and get pulled over for a traffic violation or a broken tail light, I’m going to be in dead trouble, just because I can’t speak the language.

          • Greying Wanderer says:

            this is actually a big deal – if someone can’t understand what a cop is saying the cop can think they’re being deliberately obstructive and therefore a possible threat

          • Jim says:

            You should go to Louisiana and meet some Cajuns. They speak English and French but some people say there’s no difference between their English and French.

            I was in a restaurant once in Northern Louisiana with some other guys and the owner/manager came over to talk to us. He was extremely friendly and we all smiled at each other. After he left we all turned to each other asking – did you have any clue as to what he was saying? Nobody had understood a word. The other guys were all Mississippi rednecks.

        • iffen says:

          Some of them might learn to read, in which case they might have difficulty empathizing with certain writers; might even consider them alien and disposable.

      • Patrick L. Boyle says:

        I don’t know why we (humans and Neanderthals) would necessarily be alien to each other. I’m a great genetic distance from my new puppy but we love each other. There are all sorts of internet anecdotes about lions who adopt foxes and wolves who adopt domestic cats. Adult chimpanzees seem to be vicious murderous creatures but – if the anthropologists are to be believed – Bonobos are sweet tempered.

        I think this means that we have no firm idea how humans would have reacted to Neanderthals.

      • Cantman says:

        Ah, so they’re like Chinese people.

      • Frau Katze says:

        Likely human men with female Neanderthals. The female may not have consented, assuming it made sense to call it consent.

        Some men aren’t very fussy. They’ll even go for sheep!

        • Ursiform says:

          Unless the female Neanderthal joined the modern human group that would have spread modern DNA into the Neanderthals. Seems likely to me some Neanderthal guys must have impregnated modern human women.

      • jamzw says:

        Doubt it. Sapien men would have no interest in Neander females. Banging a female twice your own strength is not boner inducing even in a train and possibly quite dangerous as well if you value your nads, and then there is the ugly factor. Neander males on the other hand might bone a Sapien female given a chance, but one wonders that she would keep the baby or that her tribe would accept it either, which implies that the female was captured and that is where the cross DNA began building a base for what developments lay ahead.

    • DRA says:

      I strongly suspect that the similarity in time of the extinction of neanderthals and the domestication of dogs is at most a coincidence.

      However, I have see some articles discussing studies of how much dogs have been changed from other canids by domestication, especially learning how to anticipate/understand human behavior. I’ve yet to see discussion of how much modern humans were changed by dogs being part of our daily environment. Particularly how much modern humans may have evolved to understand dogs. And I wonder if that possible human adaption pre-adapted us to domesticate heard animals.

  13. Gord Marsden says:

    I thought the definition of species was to breed successfully for two generations, therefore a mule is not a species, but a prizzly bear would be, descendants of Neanderthal cro magnon as most of are would say yes to being the same species.

    • Ursiform says:

      Some research suggests that polar bears are more closely related to Kodiak bears than Kodiak bears are to other brown bears. So some species identifications among ursiforms may need revision.

      And it could be argued that the red wolf is an entirely imagined species, as it appears to be a coyote-gray wolf hybrid that some humans want to be a separate species.

  14. wordpress_avatars_have_hidden_swastikas says:

    Race is a social construct. Species is an academic construct. The map is not the territory and the word is not the thing itself. Biology is a feminine science because the rules are wishy washy. As I type this, systematists are inventing new species everywhere they see variation. What’s their motivation for doing this and whatever happened to subspecies?

    Oh yeah, don’t compare human variation to that of the flourishing family of centrarchidae fishes or your professor will have a fit.

    • Rum says:

      We have all done the 23 and Me thing and seen our reports, I bet. I think it would be helpful if the reports were modified to include how much of our genetic heritage overlapped with the animal world. Instead of telling us, misleadingly, that 20% of your ancestors came from Borneo (entirely because of overlap) why not tell us we are 30% canine for the same reason? Because canines aren’t “human?”

      • wordpress_avatars_have_hidden_swastikas says:

        *what ever
        I haven’t yet, and I’ll be anxious to get the results when I do. I don’t know why I would be – I know it doesn’t change anything. Maybe for the same reason I felt the need to make corrections after rereading my first comment?
        Being 30% canine would be pretty cool though if it came with upgrades in a couple senses.

  15. Frau Katze says:

    Is it odd that our closest surviving kin species are significantly different chimps (they can’t talk)?

    I’ve seen trees with branches that would be a lot of closer than chimps, if they still existed.

    But while there are several types of bears, canines and felines (to mention other large mammals) we are alone. Did we outcompete the others?

  16. If we out-competed the others, how come the niche for humans was so precarious, at a time when humans were so few, and all the world before us?

  17. Jalfrezi says:

    LOL if Neanderthals were alive today we’d all be forced to pretend they were no different to us.

  18. j says:

    Which animal is “human” is a question of debate. I prefer the inclusive criterion, like Razib, not because it has any hard scientific foundation, but because adopting the opposite criterion ad absurdum leads to define “human” as those like me, while those with less vocabulary or lower IQ or just different are subhumans and animals.

    • BB753 says:

      Using that standard, not even the humans (h. sapiens sapiens) who interbred with Neanderthals 100k years ago would be human in the modern sense. I bet if we could clone one such archaic human, there’d be some dispute as to whether the creature would be termed fully human in the way we define humanity today.

  19. bob sykes says:

    The Dobzhahsky-Mayr definition of species is actually not very useful, and practicing taxonomists generally use a mix of criteria like geographic range, morphology, diet and behavior as well as interbreeding. Cavalli-Sforza’s great work on the geography of human diversity identified some 10 to 15 distinct human groups in Africa and a like number outside of Africa. You could attach any convenient label to them, including “species”. Coyote is a perfectly good species, and in fact some specialists want to separate the eastern coyote into a new species. Likewise, any taxonomists not constrained by politics would identify Pygmies and Khoisan as legitimate species. I would also separate modern dogs into different species, as well as those domesticated Russian foxes.

  20. Garr says:

    There was a guy on the Staten Island Ferry yesterday who looked just like a Neanderthal (very forward-projecting face including large nose, heavy brow-ridges) except for having a sharp chin. Good-looking guy, I thought, but sort of alien. And alone, walking around looking out the windows. Neanderthals, of course, liked to be alone spacing out — as opposed to the immigrants from Africa, who were constantly jabbering at and over each other and always in large groups. The Neanderthals’ genetic contribution to human creativity was not so much higher IQ as an inclination toward solitude. (This is what I imagine, anyway.)

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      variations on that theme are my guess also – they had some x factor which when added to homo sapiens created a spark

    • Archaic Tapestry says:

      Africans likely have a fair amount of archaic ancestry themselves, from the “Basal Human” group that introgressed into West Africans then expanded all across Africa into most African population:


      Somewhere on the order of 31%-9% (obviously if it’s 31% then the admixture is going to be from a “just barely diverged from early H Sap”, while if 9% then somewhat deeper, though still not likely as deep as Neanderthals).

      At the same time, Neanderthal ancestry among Eurasians supposedly varies inversely with Basal Eurasian ancestry, reaching minima in the early epipaleolithic populations of the southern Near East (Natufian hunter gatherers and hunter gatherers of Iran).

      So the “most Sapiens of them all” (but still with some low level archaic) today may be populations of the Near East or East Africa.

  21. Rum says:

    I have said a couple of times that it wasn’t the Thals were went extinct, it was people without any N. blood in Europe. In other words, it was the hybrids who won out over both DNA streams. If moderns got pale skin from Ns, that is pretty significant because a lot of things cascade from that — like the effect of sunlight on moods.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      i’ve always told people i knew who suffer with depression that it’s the price paid for creativity – i made it up to make them feel better but i wonder if there’s some truth in it

  22. Doc at the Radar Station says:

    Here’s some Neanderthal sculptures that some might find interesting:

    • BB753 says:

      I don’t know what to make of this study :

      “The Contribution of Neanderthals to Phenotypic Variation in Modern Humans”

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        “alleles that increase resting pulse rate”

        higher metabolism for warmth?

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        “multiple Neanderthal alleles at different loci contribute to skin and hair color in present-day Europeans, and these Neanderthal alleles contribute to both lighter and darker skin tones and hair color”

        if pigmentation evolves to suit particular environments then given the neanderthal’s range they might have had their own version of dark and light the same as later sapiens in which case maybe the combination explains some phenotype variation i,e.
        darkest euro: neanderthal dark alleles + sapiens dark alleles
        lightest euro: n_light + s_light
        average euro: n_dark + s_light or n_light + s_dark

        • Jm8 says:

          From what I understand, it seems there are only a few or very modest number of genes influencing skin color/pigmentation that are neanderthal-derived (since skin-color is highly polygenic/with many genes, at least a few hundred genetic loci); they (the neanderthal-derived genes) seem to have some influence but are not the main (or a very significant) determinant of pigmentation in Europeans/Eurasians (with, it seems, many-most of the genes that influence pigmentation being of modern human origin).

          • Jm8 says:

            But it’s true I think; that neanderthals had various pigment alleles and a range (likely regionally associated/depending on region) of skin (and possibly hair) pigmentations—like later sapiens (which indeed makes sense given their geographic range).

          • Jm8 says:

            Edit: “(with, it seems, most of the genes that influence pigmentation being…”

  23. MawBTS says:

    Did you know that Neanderthals are still with us today? And that you yourself might be one of them?

    It’s true. Amazing what we can learn on the internet.

    There was (or is) a movement called “Edenism” which argues for exactly that your personality is determined by which of the three ancestral races you come from. “Cro-Mags” are aggressive, low IQ, and extroverted. “Neanderthals” are shy, intellectual, thoughtful, and inhibited. “Melonheads” are sneaky, deceitful, and greedy.

    Are you socially reserved and shy? Do you feel like you don’t fit in? Are you introverted? You might be a Neanderthal, in a society of Cro-Mags.

    If this sounds like “astrology for men”, then it is. It was mostly popular among men’s rights activists and pick up artists. None of them liked feeling like their social awkwardness was due to autism. Edenism allowed them to imagine themselves as ancient, mysterious Neanderthals, the last of a dying breed.

    Here’s an archived forum thread on how to “game” various species of human.

    Cro-Mag game consists of getting drunk/high/tweaked and finding someone to rub your crotch on. See: the ghetto.

  24. Razib says:

    well u do seem to think we’re all one species 🙂

  25. Cantman says:

    If humans and Neanderthals are the same species because they could interbreed, Neanderthals and whatever came before must be the same species because they could interbreed, which logically means that they and humans are also the same species, even though they and humans cannot interbreed.

    Taken to its conclusion, humans and archaea are the same species too.

    Defining species as interbreeding populations only works at a fixed point in time, where genetic gaps between different groups of organisms are large enough to mean some of them can’t interbreed. It makes no sense projected back in time.

    • Ursiform says:

      “Defining species as interbreeding populations only works at a fixed point in time …”


      But the question relates to the ability of people considered to be of the same species as we are being able to interbreed with Neanderthals in an earlier time of our species-hood. If they could we probably could, as well.

      Dragging archaea into this is a red herring. With which we can clearly not interbreed.

      • Cantman says:

        Then you are left with the conclusion that Neanderthals and humans are the same species, and Neanderthals and what came before are the same species, but humans and what came before Neanderthals are not the same species. Contradiction.

        Species has never been a very rigorous concept, as Darwin himself realised and stated in the original work on this subject.

  26. Anonymous says:

    The “artist’s recreations” of female Neander-babes…. not many of your readers would throw them out of bed.

    I’m talking about real life, shipmates, not Internet Commentary

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