More Evolution

June 30, 2003

Ever since my evolution post, I've been thinking about modern humans and Neanderthals. (Well, obviously not the whole time. You know what I mean.) For quite a while, scientists have been arguing about whether Neanderthals were another subspecies of Homo sapiens, like us, or whether they're different enough to be Homo neanderthalensis.

There were good arguments both ways: From what we can tell, they acted like humans in ceremonially burying their dead and making new tools. But they were also very noticably different physically. Now it turns out that some fossils found in Ethiopia are 160,000 years old. They're not quite human (their skulls are a bit larger) but they're a lot closer to us than Neanderthals were -- they're currently being called Homo sapiens idaltu, compared to us being Homo sapiens sapiens.

The article says, regarding their similarities to modern humans, "And yet they were also like modern-day humans in almost every feature. The face is flat with prominent cheekbones, but without the protruding brow ridge of pre-human ancestors or Neanderthals." The Neanderthals, of course, are no longer around. There are two hypotheses about this: (1) They were wiped out by early humans, (2) They were "bred out" from intermingling with early humans. The second one got me thinking.

As far as I can tell, Neanderthals fossils haven't been found anywhere outside of the Middle East and Europe. Assuming that Neanderthals didn't make it into Asia, that means that if there was any interbreeding it would be show most prominently in Caucasians. Well, let's look at that for a second. Looking at the different races (sub-species, whatever you want to call them) in the general sense...

Brow ridges. Whites tend to have a slightly heavier brow, especially compared to Asians. (A lot of Asians I've seen, partucularly Chinese, have very flat-looking faces relative to white people. In my less-sensitive moments I joke that they look like they've been smacked with a frying pan a la "Tom & Jerry.") Given that Neanderthal fossils show pronounced brow ridges, this could be a link. Of course, black people tend to have slightly heavier brows, too. I never said this guess of mine didn't have problems.

Body hair. More or less limited to whites. Asians tend to have almost none; blacks and Indians (the ones from India) have more than Asians and less than whites. This one seems like a better link since, if body hair is based on climate, Asians should have almost as much body hair as whites.

Legs. I think I remember seeing a long time ago, and I couldn't provide a cite to save my life right now, that Neanderthals were pretty much bow-legged. From what I've seen (which admittedly isn't much) the only people who have any tendency toward bow-leggedness are whites.

Well, it's not a terribly convincing argument, but I think it might be worth looking in to. Maybe for all the Nazi/Klan talk about whites being a "master race" it'll turn out that, thanks to some indiscriminate humping 100,000 years ago, whites are actually the least evolved out of all the different types of human.

Now I'll grant that isn't saying much: Neanderthals seem to have been every bit as intelligent as their "modern" counterparts and there doesn't seem to be any difference at all in intelligence between the races nowadays.

Well, I'm probably full of it anyway. But who knows what archaeologists will discover in the coming years/decades. And I'll feel a little better about myself the next time I want to bash my computer with a big, heavy rock. It's just the Neanderthal in me trying to resurface after all these millennia.

June 27, 2003July 1, 2003