Skip to comments.Modern Humans, Not Neanderthals, May Be Evolution's 'Odd Man Out'
Posted on 09/08/2006 7:50:32 PM PDT by blam
Contact: Neil Schoenherr
Washington University in St. Louis
Modern humans, not Neandertals, may be evolution's 'odd man out'
Looking incorrectly at Neandertals
Could it be that in the great evolutionary "family tree," it is we Modern Humans, not the brow-ridged, large-nosed Neandertals, who are the odd uncle out?
New research published in the August, 2006 journal Current Anthropology by Neandertal and early modern human expert, Erik Trinkaus, professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, suggests that rather than the standard straight line from chimps to early humans to us with Neandertals off on a side graph, it's equally valid, perhaps more valid based on what the fossils tell us, that the straight line should be from the common ancestor to the Neandertals, and the Modern Humans should be the branch off that.
Trinkaus has spent years examining the fossil record and began to realize that maybe researchers have been looking at our ancient ancestors the wrong way.
Trinkaus combed through the fossil record, identifying traits which seemed to be genetic markers those not greatly influenced by environment, life ways and wear and tear. He was careful to examine traits that appear to be largely independent of each other to avoid redundancy.
"I wanted to see to what extent Neandertals are derived, that is distinct, from the ancestral form. I also wanted to see the extent to which modern humans are derived relative to the ancestral form," Trinkaus says. "What I came up with is that modern humans have about twice as many uniquely derived traits than do the Neandertals."
"In the broader sweep of human evolution," says Trinkaus, "the more unusual group is not Neandertals, whom we tend to look at as strange, weird and unusual, but it's us - Modern Humans. The more academic implication of this research is that we should not be trying to explain the Neandertals, which is what most people have tried to do, including myself, in the past. We wonder why Neandertals look unusual and we want to explain that. What I'm saying is that we've been asking the wrong questions."
The most unusual characteristics throughout human anatomy occur in Modern Humans, argues Trinkaus. "If we want to better understand human evolution, we should be asking why Modern Humans are so unusual, not why the Neandertals are divergent. Modern Humans, for example, are the only people who lack brow ridges. We are the only ones who have seriously shortened faces. We are the only ones with very reduced internal nasal cavities. We also have a number of detailed features of the limb skeleton that are unique.
"Every paleontologist will define the traits a little differently," Trinkaus admits. "If you really wanted to, you could make the case that Neandertals look stranger than we do. But if you are reasonably honest about it, I think it would be extraordinarily difficult to make Neandertals more derived than Modern Humans."
Makes sense to me.
I'd rather be the 'odd man out' in this situation.
Doesn't the dominant dictate the main?
Doubt this will ever get legs. Too... original.
Odd, that they are still arguing about bones, instead of DNA.
And if you don't believe us, just ask us.
I saw this earlier and have been thinking about it much of the day.
This seems to be one of those areas where scientists are challenging their own previous assumptions to see if there might be better interpretations.
The jury is still out and the fossils will remain the same no matter what. These folks are arguing about the best way to interpret the data.
Don't know how this debate will turn out, and don't have a strong opinion either way.
It does coincide with some of the ideas I was exposed to in grad school some (unspecified) years/decades ago. That idea suggested progress from early to late erectus in four areas of the world, with Neanderthal being late European erectus. If that is the case, then modern humans could indeed be a side branch.
That would support the idea that modern humans were genetically engineered by ET's.
Why else would we be the offshoot??
Neanderthals look a lot more like apes than men do.
We're clearly the odd ones here.
The most interesting article I ever read on this suggested that what the article called "neotony" is the key. (Forgive me, but I read the article at least 15 years ago, can't remember the source, and probably don't even have the term "neotony" exactly right. So, this is from memory and probably filled with error.)
Adult human beings show the facial and physical traits of being essentially large babies. We are not so strong, we are "softer" and "bigger eyed", etc. What is characteristics of babies is that they are extremely malleable, and all of their neural pathways are open. They play a lot and learn a lot. With most animals, the onset of adulthood changes that, and hardens the playful cub into an instinctive killing machine. The childhood learning window is closed. New learning is largely foreclosed, at least at the rate of the young.
With humans, something went haywire in the genetic makeup, and the thing that makes babies minds so absortive remained partially open for human adults. You can't teach an old dog new tricks, but you CAN teach a middle-aged man new things. Adult humans don't have the strength of any of the other apes, proportionally. We're weak and soft and babylike. But we're infinitely more trainable and capable of learning. Now, to be precise, the article suggested that our physical features are not the CAUSE of our difference, but rather the sort of "birth defect" from the genetic accident. The apes grow up, but we don't fully. Our genes don't let us go to full homo erectus ape-like adulthood. We stay juvenile, adolescent...soft, and weak, and not anywhere close to reaching the full strength and power and coordination that our ape-like bodies ought to be able to attain. Given our size and muscles, we really SHOULD be much stronger than chimps...practically as strong as gorillas. But we're really weaklings, runts, physically stunted and retarded - our genetic flaw. But what a flaw! Because the same defect that didn't let the body grow to full ape-like prowess ALSO didn't let the mind close and the neural pathways hardwire into instinct. Our brains remained more babylike, more juvenile, and capable of massive absorption of information, like all young animals.
That brainpower of course proved more than a tradeoff for the physical weakness. Not one chimp yet has ever thought to pick up a rock and bash the attacking lion on the head, and even if one did, none of the other chimps watching him actually beat a lion would learn one damned thing from it.
There is a snow monkey in Japan that rolls snowballs and stands on them, but in all the hundreds of years men have been living with and around these monkeys, and studying them, nobody has ever seen even one of them get the idea to pick up the snowball and have a snowball fight. You can't teach and old dog new tricks.
Well, actually you CAN. One of the points in the article was that domestic dogs ALSO show the neotony effect as compared to wolves. Wolves look a lot like dogs, especially in their adolescence, but then they grow up. Dogs are weaker, and have those big eyes and soft faces, and inveterate playfulness. They are smarter than wolves too: you can domesticate them easily and naturally. Take a wolf cub, and it will be domesticated...until it hits adolescence...then those neural pathways go hardwired and you'll be living with a wild animal anyway. It might tolerate you as its friend, but it ain't going to fetch or be generically playful with other humans. You'll have a wolf that is selectively tame, to you, but never domesticated. Dogs can be trained to be mean, but it takes training. They aren't INFINITELY trainable...it really is hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but even an old dog can be taught some things. Because dogs have that same neotony fault. Dogs are wolves who had a genetic defect that didn't let them grow up all the way, but left them capable of absorbing more, left them soft, malleable, and able to be friendly. Humans are apes with a similar genetic defect. The symbiosis between these two species is due to that glimmer of openness and capability to learn that comes from being genetically condemned to never quite grow up.
It's a nice story.
And it has a plausible ring to it.
Huh? What are you talking about? Anthropologists use both DNA and "bones." Comparing the presence of random mitochondrial mutations in human and chimpanzee mt-DNA for example yields a date for a common ancestor that's remarkably close to what fossils alone indicate.
Looking at DNA from extinct species is more difficult, because it tends to decompose rapidly. However, some Neanderthal DNA does exist, and there are a great many researchers studying it at the present time.
That is a very interesting theory.
Deliberate ignorance is such a sad thing to witness.
My comment was regarding this particular article - no mention of DNA at all. For completeness, one would think at least some passing reference to ongoing DNA analysis would be made.
One thing we know.....WHoops..let me correct that...my silly beliefs... maybe...but GOD...breathed life into "MORDERN MAN"
That was very interesting to read and think about. Thanks.
Don't lets get confused about who said what, here.
LMAO!!!!!!!...Thats only funny to those that saw Katrina man..or what ever his scientific name is...
I didn't. Notice the post number responded to, not the addressee.
If they don't have any Neanderthal DNA, it has to be bones.
Neanderthal DNA has been sucessfully recovered from teeth.
They have Neanderthal DNA. There have been several threads in the past few years on the subject.
With new techniques, they are likely to have even more in the near future.
I remember studying the human characteristics of neotony in college back in the early 70s, the theory being that 'childlike' facial features made us more attractive to potential mates but you have a different take on it that rings true.
Agreed. I've seen the dog example used numerous times.
I'm being picky, but what chimp with a rock is going to be able to take on a lion? The cats are killing machines, and a chip with a rock wouldn't stand a chance, no matter how big the rock or smart the chimp. "If your pet cat was as big as your dog, you would be lunch", as someone pointed out
OK -- it's a good thing that I said "If".
For one thing, modern human fossils are far more common and widespread than Neanderthal fossils. Moreover, Homo erectus fossils are far more widespread than Neanderthal fossils.
My guess is that both Neanderthals and modern humans were side branches, passing through genetic bottlenecks from the root stock, with the former outcompeting the descendants of the root stock in Europe, and latter outcompeting the root stock (and more recently the Neanderthals) throughout the range, and subsequently expanding the range worldwide.
I think you'll enjoy this Dog
Whoops...Never mind...*W*..if u had been u wouldnt be here..
If you want to take issue with this article, fine. But it's downright dishonest of you to pretend that this article indicates a failure by the anthropological profession to consider genetics. Nothing could be further from the truth.
My apologies -- I confused you with the poster who responded to you.
Thank you. I was about to take umbrage. ;)
I still cringe when I see five of those letters displayed together in public.
"Dog, we came from opposite poles of existence when we met on the road of life. What, then, can be the meaning of this love for me that has sprung up in your little heart?
- Anatole France
Don't be picky. Substitute "A pointy stick". A chimp could kill a lion with a pointy stick. Men do.
It's self???? Obviously time for me to go to bed and dream about grammar.
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