In a stunning finding, scientists found evidence in northern Spain of cannibalism by Neanderthals. Some 1,800 bone fragments were used for DNA analysis to support their hypothesis. According to The New York Times report,
Spanish scientists who analyzed the bones and DNA report the gruesome answer. The victims were a dozen members of an extended family, slaughtered by cannibals.
It seems common knowledge that Neanderthals were lacking in refinement by modern standards, but this is a bit much. This is indeed “food for thought”, since there is evidence that part of our genome is inherited from Neanderthals.
So, whether we like it or not…
It?s official ? each of us is part Neanderthal. Yes, I know ? some would say that they have already dealt with someone whose behavior can seem to be Neanderthal-like. The first draft of the Neanderthal?s genetic blueprint, or genome, has recently been reported and gives new insight into our deep ancestry. Early modern humans and Neanderthals are believed to have diverged into two distinct species between 270,000 and 440,000 years ago.
What can we learn from the new genetic information?
Using 21 samples of Neanderthal bones collected in Croatia, dated more than 38,000 years ago, scientists found that our genetic makeup is 99.84% identical to that of Neanderthals; for comparison, 96% of our DNA is identical to that of chimpanzees. The tiny difference of 0.16% includes some fascinating detail, such as genes that regulate metabolism ? critical for appetite and diet – as well as genes involved in skin, skeleton, and the development of cognition, necessary for higher learning.
That our genetic background is closely related to our ancient ancestors is not surprising. However, this study gives definitive evidence for the first time that early modern humans and Neanderthals interbred with our ancestors in Europe and Asia. An estimated ?mixing? between the two species of about 2% was revealed from the genetic data. This discovery is a departure from the classic ?Out of Africa? theory that the human race began in Africa.
In 2004, I had the pleasure of visiting the laboratory of the lead scientist of this discovery, Prof. Svante Pääbo at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology located in Leipzig, Germany. At that time, his description of their hopes to sequence the complete genome of a Neanderthal seemed far-fetched and exciting. Prof. Pääbo says that ?They live on in some of us? ? indeed, perhaps in all of us. This should give all of us pause whenever we find ourselves believing that humans are somehow special amongst the vast diversity of species that live on this planet.
To learn more about this discovery, I highly recommend the following:
A version of this article was originally published on NJ Voices.