Signs of Neanderthals Mating With Humans

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Signs of Neanderthals Mating With Humans

I am still working on clearing my head of woo-woo. I thought Neanderthal and Erectus were different human species. Then I read this NY Times article  Neanderthal mating with H. Sapiens. 

Apparently they have been able to get some DNA from bones and piecing  Neanderthal's genome they see something H. Sapien. However,  the article doesn't sound quite convincing. If chimpanzees match 98.5 % of the human genome, how close would Neanderthal be? Been listening to Dawkins reading of Darwin's "On the Origin of the Species". Darwin talks about varieties versus species and the mutation of species. Could Neanderthal be just a H. Sapien variety? Is there anything on the Internet that defines the exact differences between H. Sapiens and H. Neanderthals? Why are they considered separate? Is life so on the move it is quite hard to know when a variety becomes a species? My head is filled with KINDS and it is hard to clear that out.




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First, I think you have to

First, I think you have to realize "species" is an old word, used by Aristotle to mean a specific type of critter as opposed to a "genus" or family of critters.  Natural philosophers in the 18th century started to actively use the concept and began taxonomic studies of all living creatures.  They had been assuming all species were perfectly created and never changing.  And so they soon had a number of difficulties.

Not only was there a lot more species than they had anticipated, it was very difficult to classify some of them.  Take a look at the ring-tailed cat--

It is now determined that this critter is actually related to raccoons.  But if you were just starting to classify it without DNA, where would you put it?  It doesn't really look very much like a raccoon.  Cladistics - a more formal way of classifying species - and DNA analysis has rearranged our tree of life.

The other problem the early NPs had was interbreeding.  All canids - dogs, wolves, coyotes, and jackals - can interbreed with each other.  Horses have a different number of chromosomes than Zebras, yet they can interbreed.  They have artificially crossed lions and tigers, domestic cats and various wild cats.  One of the original ideas about a species was that it was a population that could breed within the group but not out of it.  Where is the line?

Lastly, species change.  We have seen them change.  Compare any modern dog with portraits of the same breed from the 19th century.  There are a number of these portraits in Great Britain as the landed gentry were found of their sporting dogs.  There is a lot of difference in some of the more popular breeds in just the last 100-150 years.

So don't think of a species as being immutable or completely isolated.  They may be partially isolated.  And if close enough on the DNA tree, they may interbreed and have fertile offspring.  I would be surprised if there was never any interbreeding between humans and neanderthals.  After all, they were close in type and geography.  Rape happens.  Or it may have been a really ancient version of Romeo and Juliet. 

Species is a convenient terminology signifying similarities enough that we can expect interbreeding with little or no difficulties and fertile offspring.  Some biologists fight over the exact definition, but that's not my gig.

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Another way of understanding

Another way of understanding it is to grow the family tree by a few billion twigs. Any one individual specimen (fossil skull for instance) is going to be related to all other individuals.

It is thought, that all homo sapiens shared a common great grandparent with all Neanderthals. It is thought that this great grand parent was a homo erectus. This erectus lived in Africa. Some of it's children stayed while some migrated to Asia and Europe. The descendants that made it to Europe became known as Neandertals while the descendants that remained in Africa became known as human. Then the separate cousin populations met. All the while, other cousins (still known as erectus) spread across Asia and to the pacific.

Each child born represented a small variation in genetics that accumulated to larger degrees in population genetics. It is the separation of gene "pools" which makes us want to differentiate "species". The longer a gene pool is separated from its sister/cousin pools, the more genetically/phenotypically different they will be.

But it is not impossible for homo sapien and Neandertal to have interbreed at all. They were not that far off from each other.

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Think that


N'thals are very close to us genetically with variations in things like skin. We're way closer to N'thal than erectus and pretty obviously their chicks were either really hot or too just to feral say no to...

"Experiments are the only means of knowledge at our disposal. The rest is poetry, imagination." Max Planck