Looking for our inner Neanderthal

By Grant Jacobs 26/02/2012

This Friday Professor Chris Stringer spoke at the University of Otago about the origins of man.

Another working in this area is Svante Pääbo a geneticist who now specialises in evolutionary genetics, particularly the origins of modern humans.

The title of his TED lecture, DNA clues to our inner  Neanderthal (shown below), echoes the title of Neil Shubin’s book Your Inner Fish that explores our teleost (i.e. fishy!) origins. His talk relates how a little part of us is Neanderthal.

The first half of Prof. Pääbo’s talk covers what makes us humans different or the same around the world. The presentation is drier than other TED lectures, but the ideas conveyed worth thinking about if they are new to you. Those who have been to Chris Stringer’s talk will see where these two overlap.*

A general point he makes is that human evolution is complex and that the different human species have mixed as they have developed. (For the larger picture that goes further back in time, check out David Winter’s last article, The Tree of Diversification (or why the March of Progress is wrong). This and Prof. Stringer‘s talk deal with that tiny part of the human evolution tree right down by the bottom left in David’s second illustration – just above the silhouette guy carrying a spear!)

* I’m hoping David Winter will present more of the details in a post later – meantime I have to get back to my reading!

0 Responses to “Looking for our inner Neanderthal”

  • John Hawks has more on the research mentioned in the previous post, a lazy comment on my part*:


    Do read his article—it’s a good—but his bottom line for those that really haven’t time:

    “The paper pointedly does not show that Neandertals were on the “verge of extinction”. Neandertals in the eastern part of their range show no sign of any demographic collapse, and the western part of the range arguably only shows signs of recovery and expansion.

    What the paper actually tells us is about the dynamism of Neandertal populations, which is very comparable to that of the Europeans of the last 10,000 years. Keeping this comparison in mind helps remind us that very large groups of people may still have low mtDNA diversity, reflecting the history of population movements and interactions in the past. Comparing the mtDNA with nuclear genetic evidence is also essential to this picture. Neither of these tell us that Neandertals were near extinction. ”

    * By way of explanation (i.e. It’s no excuse), I was very busy and didn’t dig past the i09 article.