Mythos 6 – Neanderthals

 

Homo heidelbergensis originated between 800,000 and 1,300,000 years ago, and continued until about 200,000 years ago. Scientists do not agree when Neanderthals can first be recognized in the fossil record, with dates ranging between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago.(1)“Homo heidelbergensis: Evolutionary Tree” Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History The first Homo Heidelbergensis fossils with proto-Neanderthal traits date to as early as 350,000 to 600,000 years ago(2)James L. Bischoff et al. (2003) “The Sima de los Huesos Hominids Date to Beyond U/Th Equilibrium (>350kyr) and Perhaps to 400–500kyr: New Radiometric Dates” Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 30, Number 3, Pages 275–80 with the first “true Neanderthals” appearing between 200,000 and 250,000 years ago.(3)Dmitra Papagianni and Michael Morse (2013) The Neanderthals Rediscovered The exact date of their extinction has also been disputed. In August 2014, a team reported on a new analysis of 40 sites in western Europe, concluding that Neanderthals died out about 40,000 years ago.(4)Kenneth Chang (August 20, 2014) “Neanderthals in Europe Died Out Thousands of Years Sooner Than Some Thought, Study Says” New York Times This date, much earlier than previous estimates, was established through improved radio carbon dating methods. Researchers want to expand their survey of sites to Eastern Europe and Siberia, as Neanderthals may have survived longer there.

Estimated Range of Neanderthals

Estimated Range of Neanderthals

It is also well established by geneticists that humans and neanderthals and another archaic human species, the Denisovans, interbred resulting in most living humans carry genes of more than one human species. Genetic studies indicate some form of hybridization between archaic humans and modern-humans had taken place after modern-humans emerged from Africa. An estimated 1 to 4 percent of the DNA in Europeans, Asians, and Native Americans is derived from ancient Neanderthals, and not shared with the majority of sub-Saharan Africans.(5)Richard E. Green et al. (May 2010) “A draft sequence of the Neanderthal genome” Science, Volume 328, Numbers 5979, Pages 710–722 This line of research has been added to as more African ethnic groups have been tested, and the lighter-skinned Africans have invariably been found to have Neanderthal DNA, including North African Arabs and Berbers,(6)Federico Sánchez-Quinto et al. (2012) “North African Populations Carry the Signature of Admixture with Neanderthals” Public Library of Science ONE, Volume 7, Number 10, Page e47765 as well as Ethiopians and Eritreans,(7)Luca Pagani et al. (June 21, 2012) “Ethiopian Genetic Diversity Reveals Linguistic Stratification and Complex Influences on the Ethiopian Gene Pool” The American Journal of Human Genetics and the Southern African Khoi and San peoples.(8)Joseph K. Pickrell et al. (2014) “Ancient west Eurasian ancestry in southern and eastern Africa” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Volume 111, Number 7, Pages 2632-2637

The general dispute regarding the extinction of the neanderthals is based around the fact that many later human skeletons have neanderthal characteristics. These skeletons were used as the basis of the hybridization theory prior to geneticists confirming it recently. In the early twentieth century the idea was proposed that Europeans and possibly other light-skinned peoples were descended from neanderthals,(9)H. P. Steensby (1907) “Racestudier i Danmark” Geografisk Tidsskrift, Volume 9, Pages 135–145 however the concept was dismissed once the idea spread among the general population that neanderthals were inferior cave-people. One of the most vocal proponents of the hybridization hypothesis has been Erik Trinkaus of Washington University.(10)Dan Jones (2007) “The Neanderthal within” New Scientist, Volume 193, Issue 2593, Pages 28–32 Trinkaus claims various fossils as products of hybridized populations, including the child of Lagar Velho, a skeleton found at Lagar Velho (Portugal). A 2006 publication co-authored by Trinkaus claimed fossils found in 1952 in the cave of Peștera Muierii, Romania, are likewise descendants of previously hybridized populations.(11)Andrei Soficaru et al. (2006) “Early Modern-Humans from the Pestera Muierii, Baia de Fier, Romania” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Volume 103, Number 46, Pages 17196–17201 The problem with these hybridized skeletons, it that they are far more recent than the generally believed extinction of neanderthals in Europe; the child of Lagar Velho skeleton is only 24,500 around years old.(12)Cidália Duarte et al. (1999) “The early Upper Paleolithic human skeleton from the Abrigo do Lagar Velho (Portugal) and modern human emergence in Iberia” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Volume 96, Number 13, Pages 7604–7609 This indicates that while Neanderthals may not have been the dominant humans in Europe anymore, some did continue to exist somewhere, and occasionally interbred with modern-humans.

Comparison of Neanderthal and Modern Human Skulls

Comparison of Neanderthal and Modern Human Skulls

The earliest non-disputed fossil of an anatomically modern-human is from the Middle Paleolithic, about 195,000 years ago such as the Omo remains of Ethiopia.(13)University Of Utah (February, 28 2005) “The Oldest Homo Sapiens: Fossils Push Human Emergence Back To 195,000 Years Ago” Science Daily Later early fossils have been found in Qafzeh and Es Skhul (Israel) dating from between 80,000 and 120,000 years ago,(14)Roger Lewin (2004) Principles of Human Evolution, Page 385 Zhirendong (China) dating from 100,000 years ago,(15)Catherine Brahic (August 8, 2014) “Human exodus may have reached China 100,000 years ago” New Scientist and Callao (Philippines) dating from 67,000 years ago.(16)Barney Henderson (August 3, 2010) “Archaeologists unearth 67,000-year-old human bone in Philippines” The Telegraph The differences between modern-humans and archaic-humans, such as neanderthals, are quite noticeable, and although there are many modern-human races, and in the past were more, they are still easy to distinguish from the archaic-humans. Archaic human bones were much ticker than modern-human bones, even extinct races of modern-human bones, such as those from a Cro-Magnon. The Cro-Magnons were an early modern-human race that lived in Europe during the decline of the European Neanderthals. Modern-Humans including Cro-Magnons have much smaller eye sockets than archaic-humans, indicating that the archaics could likely see better in the dark. In many respects the Archaic-Humans were far more apelike than Modern-Humans in their bone structure and eye-socket sizes.

Comparison of Heidelberg, Florisbad, Neanderthal, and Modern Human skulls.

Comparison of Heidelberg, Florisbad, Neanderthal, and Modern Human skulls.

In 2017 the researchers at the Max Plank Institute shocked the world by reclassifying Neanderthal fossils found at Jebel Irhoud in Morocco to Homo Sapiens, and dating them to approximately 300,000 years ago. They also cited the 259,000 year old Florisbad skull from Florisbad, South Africa, which appears to be virtually identical to the Jebel Irhoud skulls as evidence for the widespread existence of early Homo Sapiens. Why they did this is unclear, as they acknowledged in the study that they were unable to extract any DNA from the Jebel Irhoud fossils, and that these fossils physiologically looked like Neanderthal fossils. The Jebel Irhoud fossils have a cranial capacity of 1,305cm³ to 1,400cm³,(17)Emiliano Bruner and Osbjorn Pearson (September 2012) “Neurocranial evolution in modern humans: the case of Jebel Irhoud 1” Anthropological Science, Volume 121, Number 1, Pages 31-41 while the Florisbad skull has a cranial capacity of 1,400cm³. Previously the classification of the Floribad skull had been debated, with some researchers classifying it as an Archaic Homo Sapiens and others as a Homo Heidelbergensis. These cranial capacities are consistent with skulls from the Heidelberg-Neanderthal transition, which was happening at the time in Eurasia, so this should have simply shown the range of Heidelberg/Neanderthal within Africa circa 300,000 to 260,000 years ago, as these skulls do appear to be transitional Heidelberg-Neanderthal skulls.

References   [ + ]

1. “Homo heidelbergensis: Evolutionary Tree” Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
2. James L. Bischoff et al. (2003) “The Sima de los Huesos Hominids Date to Beyond U/Th Equilibrium (>350kyr) and Perhaps to 400–500kyr: New Radiometric Dates” Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 30, Number 3, Pages 275–80
3. Dmitra Papagianni and Michael Morse (2013) The Neanderthals Rediscovered
4. Kenneth Chang (August 20, 2014) “Neanderthals in Europe Died Out Thousands of Years Sooner Than Some Thought, Study Says” New York Times
5. Richard E. Green et al. (May 2010) “A draft sequence of the Neanderthal genome” Science, Volume 328, Numbers 5979, Pages 710–722
6. Federico Sánchez-Quinto et al. (2012) “North African Populations Carry the Signature of Admixture with Neanderthals” Public Library of Science ONE, Volume 7, Number 10, Page e47765
7. Luca Pagani et al. (June 21, 2012) “Ethiopian Genetic Diversity Reveals Linguistic Stratification and Complex Influences on the Ethiopian Gene Pool” The American Journal of Human Genetics
8. Joseph K. Pickrell et al. (2014) “Ancient west Eurasian ancestry in southern and eastern Africa” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Volume 111, Number 7, Pages 2632-2637
9. H. P. Steensby (1907) “Racestudier i Danmark” Geografisk Tidsskrift, Volume 9, Pages 135–145
10. Dan Jones (2007) “The Neanderthal within” New Scientist, Volume 193, Issue 2593, Pages 28–32
11. Andrei Soficaru et al. (2006) “Early Modern-Humans from the Pestera Muierii, Baia de Fier, Romania” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Volume 103, Number 46, Pages 17196–17201
12. Cidália Duarte et al. (1999) “The early Upper Paleolithic human skeleton from the Abrigo do Lagar Velho (Portugal) and modern human emergence in Iberia” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Volume 96, Number 13, Pages 7604–7609
13. University Of Utah (February, 28 2005) “The Oldest Homo Sapiens: Fossils Push Human Emergence Back To 195,000 Years Ago” Science Daily
14. Roger Lewin (2004) Principles of Human Evolution, Page 385
15. Catherine Brahic (August 8, 2014) “Human exodus may have reached China 100,000 years ago” New Scientist
16. Barney Henderson (August 3, 2010) “Archaeologists unearth 67,000-year-old human bone in Philippines” The Telegraph
17. Emiliano Bruner and Osbjorn Pearson (September 2012) “Neurocranial evolution in modern humans: the case of Jebel Irhoud 1” Anthropological Science, Volume 121, Number 1, Pages 31-41