Friday, 7 May 2010

Cousin Ug

There was a nice little piece in today's Metro about Neanderthals. The main topic was another hot potato of hominid history - just how well did Homo sapiens get along with his new neighbour Homo neanderthalensis when he moved into Europe between 50 and 100 thousand years ago? A passing nod on the way to the morning hunt? Did they invite each other to their respective barbecues? Or did it go a little further than that?

Whether or not there was interbreeding has been a subject for debate since shortly after the first Neanderthals were first identified as a separate hominid and named in 1864. The first evidence of them had been found in Belgium in 1829, with subsequent finds in 1848 (Gibraltar) and 1856 (the 'original' find in the Neander Valley in Germany). For some time there has also been debate as to whether Neanderthals should have species status or be a sub-species of modern man. Current thinking has them standing proud and alone as their own species. It seems very likely we share Homo heidelbergensis as an ancestor.

Anyway, the piece was due to the publication in today's Science of new research on the Neanderthal genome. Information has been pieced together from three individuals to provide a far better understanding of the genetic make-up of our closest relative. Perhaps the most interesting find was that Neanderthals are genetically closer to current non-Africans than with Africans. This suggests a degree of interbreeding. Modern man and Neanderthals did indeed get it on. Between one and four percent of modern man's genome is Neanderthal. I reckon I'm closer to one percent, but there's a guy that gets my bus that's got to be pushing four.

Neanderthal man went missing around 30,000 years ago. If anyone spots him, please call the police. We all miss him.

1 comment:

Christopher Walker said...

why are the most recent sightings in Spain?