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Science

Neanderthals and Humans Diverged 660K Years Ago 128

Posted by kdawson
from the big-chests-big-brains-you-do-the-math dept.
Death Metal Maniac writes "The team analyzed the DNA of 13 genes from Neanderthal mitochondria and found they were distinctly different from modern humans, suggesting Neanderthals never, or rarely, interbred with early humans. The genetic material shows that a Neanderthal 'Eve' lived around 660,000 years ago, when the species last shared a common ancestor with humans. Neanderthal brains were on average larger than those of modern humans."
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Neanderthals and Humans Diverged 660K Years Ago

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  • by Amorymeltzer (1213818) on Friday August 08, 2008 @11:24AM (#24527127)

    I think they mean "last" as in last point in time. My brother and I have a common ancestor in my maternal grandfather, for example, but our "last shared" common ancestor would be our mother (or father).

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Friday August 08, 2008 @11:50AM (#24527627) Journal

    There's a lot of debate as to what human-like abilities the Neandertals did possess. There are only a few burials, and while there does seem to be some ceremonial aspect to them (suggesting at less some capacity to invoke and comprehend symbolism) they're pretty damned primitive. Technologically, the Neandertals spent much of their time on this planet in a stasis. Advancement and innovation was excruciatingly slow, with much of it happening in the final few thousand years when they seem to have picked up on what the invading modern humans were doing, at the very least trying to remain competitive.

    Of course, the flipside to that is that anatomically modern humans spent a good chunk of their time on this planet in the same sort of stasis. Sites in the Levant where Neandertals lived and where the first modern humans came out of Africa show that for thousands of years you could tell little difference between the two on technology alone. At some point over the last 100,000 years something changed in the way modern humans' brains were wired that saw a blossoming of symbolic thinking and technological and cultural innovations. Unfortunately, wiring doesn't get fossilized, and the best theory based on very slim evidence seems to be that a major complexification of language, from earlier more primitive proto-languages to fully modern language probably played a big part in this. The fossil evidence suggests that hominids have had the structural ability for a million years or more. We've got a long way to go on this one, and what's going to start to answer some questions is if we can start finding enough Neandertal nuclear DNA to start looking at genes like FOXP2.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 08, 2008 @11:53AM (#24527675)

    Notice that cheap metal ore gets used up by industry: yet there was plenty around to fuel the human industrial age.

  • Two independent life forms could make the same right vs. left handed sugar choice with 50% odds. I find 1 in 20^64 magnitude odds more convincing: specifically the genetic code [rcn.com].

    All life just coincidentally decided that CAG was going to mean glutamine? And with the exception of a few codes in mitochondria and a few eukaryotes, the hypothetical multiple genesis also gave us random agreement on the meaning of 63 other codons? No. If every cell on Earth agrees on 55 out of 64 codes, and most agree on all 64, it's a very safe bet that their translation machinery was an inheritance from the same ancestor.

  • by Moraelin (679338) on Friday August 08, 2008 @12:00PM (#24527801) Journal

    That may be so, but we have plenty of signs that Neanderthals were every bit as evolved as the Cro-Magnons (humans) at the same time.

    They did use fire. In fact, occasionally they seem to have even used coal, something Homo Sapiens never really got into until Renaissance. They also cut down trees and used wood extensively. They skinned animals and used the skins. They used traps to hunt, in addition to spears. They built elaborate shelters. Their weapons and tools are every bit as evolved as those of the Cro-Magnons, and they too used tools to build other tools. (A chimp may sharpen a stick into an ad-hoc tool or weapon, and then discard it. Humans and Neanderthals built a wooden mallet to chip a flint axe, to cut a branch, to make a spear. Then keep them.) There are signs of _some_ work specialization, which also involves at least some societal organization and maybe even some primitive trade. (As in, I'll give you a leg of antelope if you make me a good spear.) They not only buried their dead, but there are signs of using grave goods and basically ritual burial. That alone hints at some primitive religion and a concept of afterlife. (You don't bury someone with food and weapons if you expect that he's just dead and rotting, and has essentially just ceased to exist.) But, at the very least, it means they probably had a few abstract concepts there, like remorse. We found stuff from them like a femur with holes drilled in it, very likely a primitive flute or such. They seemed to have decorated themselves with primitive jewellery and paints. That's a few more abstract concepts you need for those. Etc.

    Basically, seriously, it's every bit on par with primitive Homo Sapiens. Go look at some forgotten tribe in the Amazon, like the recent ones who were trying to shoot arrows and chuck spears at a helicopter, and the Neanderthals weren't any less advanced than those.

    The _only_ puzzling shortcoming about Neanderthals, is that there we found no missile weapons from them, nor any sign that they ever used missile weapons. Which may point at some shortcoming of their brain after all. Still, I wouldn't qualify someone as non-sentient, after they did all I've listed above and more, just because they can't do ballistics.

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Friday August 08, 2008 @02:08PM (#24530107) Journal

    This is a rather bizarre comment. Hunter-gatherer societies don't support large numbers. Whether it's Neandertals or moderns, if you're a hunter-gatherer, you need, depending on the environment, a rather large area of territory to make your living from (this is leading theory in the Neandertal extinction, that moderns simply out-competed them. 10,000 years ago, at the beginning of agricultural revolution, there weren't exactly a lot of people out there, but agriculture allowed for much more efficient use of the land, upping the calories one could expect from an acre by orders of a magnitude.

    This isn't exactly a hard concept, but I get the sense that yet another person with a chip on their shoulder, rather than understanding the differences between two very different food acquiring models could make such a huge difference in population density, would rather run around making funny faces at sciences.

  • "Neanderthal" is German, and refers to Neander Valley. The spelling is historic and remains in Latin/scientific words and in English. Neander Valley is now spelled "Neandertal" in modern German and English. There is no /th/ sound in German, so the German pronounciation would be with a hard /t/ sound (and an 'ay' for the first e but that's picking nits).

    Neanderthal Man is the pervasive English spelling, it was originally "Neanderthaler" in German but is now similarly spelled "Neandertaler". As noted above, the pronounciation hasn't changed, and "Neandertal" in English isn't strictly wrong either.

  • by Anne_Nonymous (313852) on Friday August 08, 2008 @09:20PM (#24534379) Homepage Journal

    Size [washington.edu] isn't everything:

    adult human 1,300 - 1,400g
    sperm whale 7,800g
    fin whale 6,930g
    elephant 4,783g
    humpback whale 4,675g
    gray whale 4,317g
    killer whale 5,620g
    bowhead whale 2,738g
    pilot whale 2,670g
    bottle-nosed dolphin 1,500 - 1,600g

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