First Love Child of Human, Neanderthal Found
This article was updated (at the bottom) on 4.1.2013 in response to a submission by resident tumblr science literacy advocate theolduvaigorge
The skeletal remains of an individual living in northern Italy 40,000-30,000 years ago are believed to be that of a human/Neanderthal hybrid, according to a paper in PLoS ONE.
If further analysis proves the theory correct, the remains belonged to the first known such hybrid, providing direct evidence that humans and Neanderthals interbred. Prior genetic research determined the DNA of people with European and Asian ancestry is 1 to 4 percent Neanderthal.
The present study focuses on the individual’s jaw, which was unearthed at a rock-shelter called Riparo di Mezzena in the Monti Lessini region of Italy. Both Neanderthals and modern humans inhabited Europe at the time.
“From the morphology of the lower jaw, the face of the Mezzena individual would have looked somehow intermediate between classic Neanderthals, who had a rather receding lower jaw (no chin), and the modern humans, who present a projecting lower jaw with a strongly developed chin,” co-author Silvana Condemi, an anthropologist, told Discovery News.
Condemi is the CNRS research director at the University of Ai-Marseille. She and her colleagues studied the remains via DNA analysis and 3D imaging. They then compared those results with the same features from Homo sapiens.
The genetic analysis shows that the individual’s mitochondrial DNA is Neanderthal. Since this DNA is transmitted from a mother to her child, the researchers conclude that it was a “female Neanderthal who mated with male Homo sapiens.”
By the time modern humans arrived in the area, the Neanderthals had already established their own culture, Mousterian, which lasted some 200,000 years. Numerous flint tools, such as axes and spear points, have been associated with the Mousterian. The artifacts are typically found in rock shelters, such as the Riparo di Mezzena, and caves throughout Europe.
The researchers found that, although the hybridization between the two hominid species likely took place, the Neanderthals continued to uphold their own cultural traditions.
That’s an intriguing clue, because it suggests that the two populations did not simply meet, mate and merge into a single group.
As Condemi and her colleagues wrote, the mandible supports the theory of “a slow process of replacement of Neanderthals by the invading modern human populations, as well as additional evidence of the upholding of the Neanderthals’ cultural identity.”
Prior fossil finds indicate that modern humans were living in a southern Italy cave as early as 45,000 years ago. Modern humans and Neanderthals therefore lived in roughly the same regions for thousands of years, but the new human arrivals, from the Neanderthal perspective, might not have been welcome, and for good reason. The research team hints that the modern humans may have raped female Neanderthals, bringing to mind modern cases of “ethnic cleansing.”
Ian Tattersall is one of the world’s leading experts on Neanderthals and the human fossil record. He is a paleoanthropologist and a curator emeritus at the American Museum of Natural History.
Tattersall told Discovery News that the hypothesis, presented in the new paper, “is very intriguing and one that invites more research.”
Neanderthal culture and purebred Neanderthals all died out 35,000-30,000 years ago.
UPDATE: A Frustrated Palaeoanthropologist Has A Proper Rant
I love your blog (and have followed under a different account). It’s always nice to start a criticism with a compliment but in this case it’s true! However, I’m a palaeoanthropologist and too many general science blogs are posting bad science about human evolution, especially about Neandertals and always without commentary: The Big Eyes Neandertal Extinction article, the Bunny Rabbits Neandertal Extinction article, and now this “hybrid” article. Just because it got published, doesn’t make it good science.
The article states that nearly all of the fragmented cranial elements are Neandertal. The DNA says it’s Neandertal. All but an incipient mental trigone (chin) screams Neandertal. The problem is, cranial variability exists. Scientists used to claim that a retromolar space was diagnostic only of Neandertals but some anatomically modern human (AMH) specimens have them too. They’ve claimed a Levantine specimen in Middle Palaeolithic (MP) layers associated with a Mousterian industry was AMH because the specimen lacked the “en bombe” occipital element characteristic of European Neandertals but we know that there are morphological dissimilarities between specimens of this taxon based on geography.
Slight inflation of the glabella does not a supraorbital torus make; rounder orbitals alone do no signify Neandertals; and one single aspect of a fragmented bone does not make a hybrid! Too many articles with provocative titles that employ terrible methodology or that fail to support their theses with empirical data (not a datum!) are being published, especially in PLoS and it’s infuriating that they get so much uncritical press. It’s bad academic science and it’s bad for the public because they fail to truly grasp human evolution for what it is. The public only hears the sexy gossip, which more often than not is tendentious or just incorrect. This isn’t even the first specimen to be called a hybrid so that aspect of the news articles is wrong too. We have Cioclovina 1 and Laghar Velho amongst the most famous. A true hyrbid specimen (for which there is no conclusive evidence) is NOT going to exhibit mosaic traits with Neandertal-like taurodontism over there and a proper fully developed chin over here.
I have no problem with educated discussion regarding the introgression of Neandertal DNA into the modern human genome or about cultural contact between the two taxa. I have a problem with the blind acceptance Tumblr seems to have for bad science in human evolution. I appologise if I come across as aggressive. My frustration is not with you. This is not personal. We all post or reblog articles outside our area of expertise that are bad science now and again and we don’t know it because we can’t know everything! I too am guilty of doing this on multiple occasions! However, we need to start reblogging from people in the field and not just assuming that because it’s been published in an academic journal that it’s legit. Thank you for hearing me out. Like your blog says: be skeptical and ask questions. Tumblr needs to take your advice to heart.