Son of a Neanderthal
Could this be the latest in new school yard taunts, “Hey You Son a Neanderthal?” Or is it just the latest revelation from DNA?
Back when I was a kid, Neanderthals were known to be strong, lumbering and dumb. They thrived in Europe and the Middle East for some 200,000 years, where they did just fine until modern humans arrived. That’s when they realized that they couldn’t compete with our superior intelligence and hunting abilities. So they all fell down in awe and went extinct.
That’s roughly what I learned in school. It was a great story that gave us humans permission to feel good and smug.
But darn that DNA science.
Recent advances have made it possible to extract DNA from older and older bones, until now even Neanderthal DNA has been isolated. Of course once scientists had the Neanderthal DNA, the next step was to compare it to human DNA.
And what do you know? It would seem that the Neanderthals are not extinct after all. They are still here among us. Actually they are us. Perhaps this explains certain behaviors that can still be observed in sports stadiums, frat houses and the dens of teenagers.
Actually not ALL modern humans have Neanderthal DNA. People descended from Saharan Africans do not. But most or all people of European or Asian descent have Neanderthal ancestors.
Even more interesting is that that DNA seems to be clustered mostly in the genes that control hair, skin and nails. Scientists now theorize that lighter colored skin, eyes and hair may have come from the Neanderthal side of the family.
Personally I find this marvelously hilarious.
I was born in Virginia, in 1954, when racial discrimination was rampant and thoroughly condoned by the state legal system. Virginia has the shameful distinction of being The Last State in the Country to legalize interracial marriage (1967). The goal of the law was to preserve the “purity of the white race,” implying that darker races were not quite the same species as Caucasians.
Now the facts are in. Who is “pure?”
What race or races of people are the most pure homo sapiens?
Africans – black people and Khoisan people (aka African Bushmen). Neither Caucasians nor Asians. Not Native Americans either. They are believed to have come to the Americas from Asia, carrying their Neanderthal DNA with them.
So we Caucasians are mutts, the result of a mixture of not just races, but of species.
Yep. There you have it. The very source of our “whiteness” is that our ancestors mingled across the divide, not just between races, but between species.
Fortunately scientists are also realizing that the Neanderthals were probably more sophisticated than earlier believed. They used fire to cook their food. They cared for sick tribal members allowing them to live to be old. It is even likely that they could speak. So perhaps we mixed species people can still hold our heads up.
But any smug superiority is out the window.
So if you are of Asian, European or American descent, the next time someone calls you a “Son of a Neanderthal,” you might just nod and say, “Yep. My great, great grandpa was quite a guy.”
Sources of interesting information about Neanderthal research: