When you’re a human evolution nerd like I am, you need to be discriminating about the source of your information. It’s sometimes eye-rolling how big media hears about some kind of research or fossil discovery & immediately morphs it into a story about sex or food. Well, we are human, & we do love food (it’s one of my blog categories, after all), we do love stories, & we do love sex (..although that priority order may vary depending on one’s gender, age, love of fiction novels, chef-ing proclivities, etc.).
Just so you know, I always try to take a look at the source research when I tell you something or use a link in my posts. I don’t always read entire technical papers, but I do try to ferret out the science from the media hype. That’s why I’ve done a test to find out
if I really do have Neanderthal genes, as reported recently for many of us with European ancestry.
I know you’ll be thrilled (& not surprised) to know that I do. & so, probably, do most of you, unless your ancestry is exclusively from Africa, & even then there might be a little Neanderthal or Denisovan mixed in if your ancestors left Africa then returned after a little hanky panky with the relatives.
The test I did with the National Geographic Genographic program informed me that 1.8% of my mtDNA (which means from my mother’s side) is Neanderthal, and even more, 2.8%, is Denisovan. I hadn’t even heard much of these latter ancestors until the past year or so: these close relatives of Neanderthals are thought to have migrated out of Africa around the same time as their brethren Neanderthal folk, around 300,000 years ago, & to have lived in central Asia. That Denisovan percentage of my mtDNA is probably related to the 16% of my heritage that’s ‘Southwest Asian’, the rest being Northern European (46%) & Mediterranean (35%).
In case you don’t follow the exciting but admittedly sometimes obscure twists & turns of human evolution research & discovery: the current theory about our Neanderthal cousins – advanced hominids who survived a major ice age in parts of (what is now known as) Europe – is that they did NOT become extinct because we, ‘human’ primates, killed them off with our superior brain power, sharper hunting spears, nascent language abilities, or murderous ways when we migrated out of Africa about 80-60,000 years ago. Instead, we now know that they interbred with us. Yes that’s right, we & Neanderthals were enough of the same species 60-40,000 years ago that we together became one or more of many varieties of the human primate species we are today.
What I find deeply satisfying about all of this is that we’re living in a time when our understanding of evolution, & human evolution specifically (because we do love stories about ourselves), changes with nearly each new hominid fossil &/or DNA analysis tool. I enjoy my self-proclaimed job of helping you, dear friends near & far (known & unknown, & who are busy with other worthy endeavors), keep up with the latest human primate genealogy news.
And, I also absolutely love knowing that these cells in my body can be linked with people in Africa & Asia & Papua New Guinea & Neanderthals & Denisovans & many of the rest of our primate ancestors. Thank you, science, & remember, when you think about human evolution, visualize spaghetti.
Enjoy the Summer Solstice tomorrow, & don’t forget about the big moon this Sunday!