Homo Sapiens & Neanderthal Skulls

Homo Sapiens & Neanderthal Skulls


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From Neanderthal Skull to Neanderthal Brain?

The first draft of the Neanderthal genome, published in 2010, came with some titillating news. It showed that 50,000 years ago, these ancient hominids interbred with the ancestors of many modern humans. If you have European or Asian ancestry, an estimated 1 to 4 percent of your DNA came from Neanderthals.

On the off chance that your mind hasn’t gone there, allow me: Our ancestors, looking pretty much like we do today, had sex with the short, extremely muscular, big-nosed, big-browed, big-headed Neanderthals. Were the differences between the two species mostly physical, with shared intellectual and cultural pursuits the subjects of their pillow talk? Or were Neanderthals violent, mute, and stupid, as so often depicted in popular culture? Or something in between?

Neanderthals almost certainly weren’t as brutish as assumed a century ago. Anthropologists now know that they used tools, made art, and may have talked. Still, nobody fully knows how their brains worked, or how their thinking was different from ours. The uncertainty is understandable considering the evidence. All scientists have to go on are the fossilized skulls the Neanderthals left behind.

Using a new and somewhat controversial (more on that later) method of analyzing these ancient skulls, scientists in England have proposed a theory about the structure of the Neanderthal brain. Although the brains of our ancestors and Neanderthals were about the same size, Neanderthals had larger brain areas related to vision and body control, according to a study out today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

This implies, the researchers say, that compared with our ancestors, Neanderthals had less brain space for dealing with other skills and behaviors. For example, if the Neanderthals had less brain area devoted to social cognition, it might explain why they traveled shorter distances, had fewer symbolic artifacts and lived in smaller communities.

“One of the implications of differing brain organization we propose is that Neanderthals had smaller social networks than modern humans because Neanderthals had smaller areas in their brains to deal with social complexity,” says investigator Eiluned Pearce, a graduate student working with experimental psychologist Robin Dunbar at the University of Oxford.

It’s an intriguing theory, no doubt. But some researchers wonder whether this isn’t paleo-phrenology*. Can crude anatomical relationships of the skull really reveal patterns of complex behavior?

Pearce’s team began with published data from a few dozen cranial ‘endocasts’, or rubber moldings made from the inside of skulls to show the shape of the outer brain. For this study, the researchers weren’t interested in the shape of the endocasts but rather their volume, to use as a proxy for brain size.

For each endocast, they also looked at the size of the eye sockets, or orbits. Studies of other primates have shown an interesting anatomical relationship: The bigger the eye, the bigger the visual cortex, the region at the back of the brain that interprets light signals from the retina to produce vision.

Comparing the endocasts made from 21 skulls of Neanderthals and 38 skulls of our ancestors, the researchers found that Neanderthals had larger orbits (after controlling for body size). That suggests that they also had larger eyes and visual cortices.

The findings agree with studies of endocast shape showing that Neanderthals had relatively larger occipital lobes (where the visual cortex resides) than our ancestors did, notes Emiliano Bruner, an anthropologist from the National Research Center on Human Evolution in Burgos, Spain. “We must seriously take into consideration that different human species may have had different cognitive capacities,” he says. “It is worth noting that ‘different’ does not mean worse or better, but just different.”

Why would the Neanderthals have larger eyes than our ancestors? The study suggests it’s because the Neanderthals evolved in Europe, at higher latitudes than hominids in Africa. At higher latitudes, they were exposed to lower light levels, requiring larger eyes for the same level of visual acuity. But other experts say this has nothing to do with vision. According to Bergmann’s Rule, species living in colder climates are larger than those living in warmer climates. “Humans at higher latitudes are bigger, and therefore have bigger orbits, than humans at lower latitudes,” says Trenton Holliday, an anthropologist at Tulane University.

Another problem, Holliday says, is that the researchers didn’t correct for the size of the face. Orbit size is known to increase with face size, and Neanderthals had larger faces than our ancestors did. “What I suspect is that if they correct for facial size, then the differences in relative size of the visual part of the brain will disappear,” he says.

The effect of face size “is definitely an avenue for further research,” Pearce says. But she doesn’t think it will make a difference. “Although overall body or face size might influence orbit size to some extent, a larger orbit still means a larger eye and therefore a larger visual cortex, which is our argument.”

But those are all technical concerns. The more interesting issue, to me, is the notion that the size of a brain area — the visual cortex, say — can say anything about how the Neanderthal brain worked. If there’s one thing that we’ve learned in the last century of neuroscience, it’s that the brain isn’t really modular. Yes, certain regions are specialized to process certain types of sensory inputs and are active during certain tasks. But they’re all part of distributed functional networks, and we’re nowhere near understanding how those networks lead to this or that behavior. Plus, we’ve learned from studies of injury that the brain is incredibly plastic, capable of finding several neural routes to carry out the same behavior.

So given all that, does it make sense to claim that Neanderthals didn’t have higher-order social cognition simply because their brains aren’t set up for it exactly like ours are?

Franz Gall, the founder of phrenology, had some things to say about the occipital lobe of female homo sapiens. According to the 2003 book Labeling People: “Gall also thought that, since women’s heads were larger in the back and their foreheads lower and smaller than those of men, they therefore sensed and judged differently, and their inferior organization made them superstitious.”


To the victor go the spoils: How Homo sapiens prevailed in battles for survival with Neanderthals

Neanderthals fascinate us because of what they tell us about ourselves – who we were, and who we might have become. It’s tempting to see them in idyllic terms, living peacefully with nature and each other, like Adam and Eve in the Garden. If so, maybe humanity’s ills – especially our territoriality, violence, wars – aren’t innate, but modern inventions.

Biology and paleontology paint a darker picture. Far from peaceful, Neanderthals were likely skilled fighters and dangerous warriors, rivalled only by modern humans.

Top predators

Predatory land mammals are territorial, especially pack-hunters. Like lions, wolves and Homo sapiens, Neanderthals were cooperative big-game hunters. These predators, sitting atop the food chain, have few predators of their own, so overpopulation drives conflict over hunting grounds. Neanderthals faced the same problem if other species didn’t control their numbers, conflict would have.

Lion prides expand their populations- until the conflict with other prides. Credit: Hennie Briedendhann/Shutterstock

This territoriality has deep roots in humans. Territorial conflicts are also intense in our closest relatives, chimpanzees. Male chimps routinely gang up to attack and kill males from rival bands, a behaviour strikingly like human warfare. This implies that cooperative aggression evolved in the common ancestor of chimps and ourselves, 7 million years ago. If so, Neanderthals will have inherited these same tendencies towards cooperative aggression.

All too human

Warfare is an intrinsic part of being human. War isn’t a modern invention, but an ancient, fundamental part of our humanity. Historically, all peoples warred. Our oldest writings are filled with war stories. Archaeology reveals ancient fortresses and battles, and sites of prehistoric massacres going back millennia.

To war is human – and Neanderthals were very like us. We’re remarkably similar in our skull and skeletal anatomy, and share 99.7% of our DNA. Behaviourally, Neanderthals were astonishingly like us. They made fire, buried their dead, fashioned jewellery from seashells and animal teeth, made artwork and stone shrines. If Neanderthals shared so many of our creative instincts, they probably shared many of our destructive instincts, too.

Violent lives

Neanderthal javelins, 300,000 years ago, Schöningen, Germany. Credit: Prof. Dr. Thomas Terberger

The archaeological record confirms Neanderthal lives were anything but peaceful.

Neanderthalensis were skilled big game hunters, using spears to take down deer, ibex, elk, bison, even rhinos and mammoths. It defies belief to think they would have hesitated to use these weapons if their families and lands were threatened. Archaeology suggests such conflicts were commonplace.

Prehistoric warfare leaves telltale signs. A club to the head is an efficient way to kill – clubs are fast, powerful, precise weapons – so prehistoric Homo sapiens frequently show trauma to the skull. So too do Neanderthals.

The Saint-Césaire Neanderthal skull suffered a blow that split the skull. 36,000 years ago, France. Credit: Smithsonian Institution

Another sign of warfare is the parry fracture, a break to the lower arm caused by warding off blows. Neanderthals also show a lot of broken arms. At least one Neanderthal, from Shanidar Cave in Iraq, was impaled by a spear to the chest. Trauma was especially common in young Neanderthal males, as were deaths. Some injuries could have been sustained in hunting, but the patterns match those predicted for a people engaged in intertribal warfare- small-scale but intense, prolonged conflict, wars dominated by guerrilla-style raids and ambushes, with rarer battles.

The Neanderthal resistance

War leaves a subtler mark in the form of territorial boundaries. The best evidence that Neanderthals not only fought but excelled at war, is that they met us and weren’t immediately overrun. Instead, for around 100,000 years, Neanderthals resisted modern human expansion.

The out-of-Africa offensive. Credit: Nicholas R. Longrich

Why else would we take so long to leave Africa? Not because the environment was hostile but because Neanderthals were already thriving in Europe and Asia.

It’s exceedingly unlikely that modern humans met the Neanderthals and decided to just live and let live. If nothing else, population growth inevitably forces humans to acquire more land, to ensure sufficient territory to hunt and forage food for their children. But an aggressive military strategy is also good evolutionary strategy.

Homo sapiens has a history of aggressive military expansion.

Instead, for thousands of years, we must have tested their fighters, and for thousands of years, we kept losing. In weapons, tactics, strategy, we were fairly evenly matched.

Neanderthals probably had tactical and strategic advantages. They’d occupied the Middle East for millennia, doubtless gaining intimate knowledge of the terrain, the seasons, how to live off the native plants and animals. In battle, their massive, muscular builds must have made them devastating fighters in close-quarters combat. Their huge eyes likely gave Neanderthals superior low-light vision, letting them manoeuvre in the dark for ambushes and dawn raids.

Sapiens victorious

Finally, the stalemate broke, and the tide shifted. We don’t know why. It’s possible the invention of superior ranged weapons – bows, spear-throwers, throwing clubs – let lightly-built Homo sapiens harass the stocky Neanderthals from a distance using hit-and-run tactics. Or perhaps better hunting and gathering techniques let sapiens feed bigger tribes, creating numerical superiority in battle.

US Army, Iraq War, Ramadi. Homo sapiens is extremely skilled at war.

Even after primitive Homo sapiens broke out of Africa 200,000 years ago, it took over 150,000 years to conquer Neanderthal lands. In Israel and Greece, archaic Homo sapiens took ground only to fall back against Neanderthal counteroffensives, before a final offensive by modern Homo sapiens, starting 125,000 years ago, eliminated them.

This wasn’t a blitzkrieg, as one would expect if Neanderthals were either pacifists or inferior warriors, but a long war of attrition. Ultimately, we won. But this wasn’t because they were less inclined to fight. In the end, we likely just became better at war than they were.

Nick Longrich is a Senior Lecturer in Evolutionary Biology and Paleontology at the University of Bath. Nick is interested in how the world evolved to be the way it is. He studies mass extinction, adaptive radiation, dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and mosasaurs, among other things. Find Nick on Twitter @NickLongrich

A version of this article was originally posted at the Conversation and has been reposted here with permission. The Conversation can be found on Twitter @ConversationUS

The GLP featured this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. The viewpoint is the author’s own. The GLP’s goal is to stimulate constructive discourse on challenging science issues.


Evolutionary Possibilities

One view is all big-brained Mid-Pleistocene hominins — from Africa, Europe and Asia — belong to a single species, usually called Homo heidelbergensis ( here , here ). The lineage descended from Homo erectus and led to later humans. In this scenario, Homo heidelbergensis was the shared ancestor of Homo sapiens , Neanderthals and Denisovans.

Others contend that Mid-Pleistocene specimens show too much variation to be lumped into a single species. This implies the global pool of H. heidelbergensis -looking hominins had already formed distinct lineages. Proponents of this hypothesis often draw the division between African and Eurasian fossils. They use Homo heidelbergensis for Eurasian fossils leading to Neanderthals and Denisovans, and Homo rhodesiensis for Mid-Pleistocene African hominins likely on the lineage leading to modern humans. The shared ancestor gets pushed to earlier specimens, such as

800,000-year-old remains from Spain sometimes called Homo antecessor .

But population territories were probably more complicated than simple continental borders. Groups expanded, contracted and migrated as environments changed. They overlapped and interbred. The result was that, even if there were multiple species of Mid-Pleistocene humans, they likely intermingled with each other, both geographically and sexually.


New skull discovery shows mankind may have arrived in Europe 150,000 years earlier than previously thought

Part of a skull named Apidima 2, discovered in a Greek cave, which was determined in a study to have the characteristics of Neanderthal man

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M ankind may have arrived in Europe 150,000 years earlier than previously thought, researchers say, after reassessing an ancient skull found inside a cave in Greece.

The skull was found the cave in the 1970s, and initially identified as Neanderthal. But new techniques have allowed for further analysis of the skull, and scientists found to their astonishment that it is in fact a 210,000-year-old skull belonging to a Homo sapiens.

"It shows that the early dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa not only occurred earlier - before 200,000 years ago - but also reached further geographically, all the way to Europe," said Katerina Harvati, a palaeoanthropologist at the Eberhard Karls University of Tuebingen, in Germany.

"This is something that we did not suspect before, and which has implications for the population movements of these ancient groups."

The findings support the idea that Homo sapiens made several, sometimes unsuccessful, migrations from Africa over tens of thousands of years.

S outheast Europe has long been considered a major transport corridor for modern humans from Africa. But until now the earliest evidence of Homo sapiens on the continent dated back only around 50,000 years.

In the new findings, published in the journal Nature, an international team of researchers used state-of-the art computer modelling and uranium dating to re-examine the skull – one of two found fossilised and badly damaged in the Greek cave.

O ne of them, named Apidima 2 after the cave in which the pair were found, proved to be 170,000 years old and did indeed belong to a Neanderthal.

But, to the surprise of scientists, the second skull, named Apidima 1, pre-dated Apidima 2 by up to 40,000 years, and was determined to be that of a Homo sapiens.

That makes it by far the oldest modern human remains ever discovered on the continent, and older than any known Homo sapiens specimen outside of Africa.

Apidima 1 lacked classic features associated with Neanderthal skulls, including the distinctive bulge at the back of the head, shaped like hair tied in a bun.

Hominins - a subset of great apes that includes Homo sapiens and Neanderthals - are believed to have emerged in Africa more than six million years ago.

T hey left the continent in several migration waves starting about two million years ago. The oldest known African fossil attributed to a member of the Homo family is a 2.8 million-year-old jawbone from Ethiopia.

Homo sapiens replaced Neanderthals across Europe for good around up to 45,000 years ago, in what was long considered a gradual takeover of the continent involving millennia of co-existence and even interbreeding.

B ut the skull discovery in Greece suggests that Homo sapiens undertook the migration from Africa to southern Europe on "more than one occasion", according to Eric Delson, a professor of anthropology at City University of New York.

"Rather than a single exit of hominins from Africa to populate Eurasia, there must have been several dispersals, some of which did not result in permanent occupations," said Mr Delson, who was not involved in the Nature study.

Ms Harvati said advances in dating and genetics technology could continue to shape our understanding of how our pre-historic ancestors spread throughout the world.

"I think recent advances in palaeoanthropology have shown that the field is still full of surprises," she said.


Nature's nip and tuck

The different face shapes of apes, ancient humans and modern humans are in part a result of the ways skulls grow and develop after birth - a process known as bone remodelling.

In modern humans, this process sees bone tissue predominantly added to the upper parts of the face (the nose and forehead) and removed from the lower-middle area (especially the upper jawbone). This leaves us with a flatter face in adulthood.

Using a scanning electron microscope, the researchers found that the Neanderthal child from Gibraltar had many active cells responsible for building bone tissue (osteoblasts) in the upper jawbone, but no active cells responsible for breaking bone tissue down (osteoclasts).

This implies that the characteristic protruding upper jaw of Neanderthals was the result of extensive bone remodelling after birth - the exact opposite of modern humans, where bone remodelling results in a less prominent upper jaw.

Cellular analysis of the skulls of Neanderthals and the Sima de los Huesos hominins. Purple indicates the presence of cells for bone growth (deposition), and turquoise indicates cells for bone removal (resorption). © RS Lacruz, TG Bromage, P O'Higgins, JL Arsuaga, C Stringer, R Godinho, J Warshaw, I Martínez, A Gracia-Tellez, JM Bermúdez de Castro and E Carbonell


First European Homo sapiens Mixed with Neanderthals, DNA Study Shows

Hajdinjak et al. present genome-wide data from three individuals dated to between 45,930 and 42,580 years ago from Bacho Kiro Cave, Bulgaria.

“Modern humans appeared in Europe by at least 45,000 years ago, but the extent of their interactions with Neanderthals, who disappeared by about 40,000 years ago, and their relationship to the broader expansion of modern humans outside Africa are poorly understood,” said co-lead author Dr. Mateja Hajdinjak, a researcher in the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and Francis Crick Institute, and his colleagues.

“Analyses of the genomes of Neanderthals and modern humans have shown that gene flow occurred between the two hominin groups approximately 60,000-50,000 years ago, probably in southwestern Asia.”

“However, owing to the scarcity of modern human remains from Eurasia that are older than 40,000 years, genome-wide data are available for only three individuals of this age. Little is therefore known about the genetics of the earliest modern humans in Eurasia, the extent to which they interacted with archaic humans and their contribution to later populations.”

“For example, whereas 42,000 to 37,000-year-old ‘Oase1’ individual from Romania and 45,000-year-old ‘Ust’Ishim’ individual from Siberia do not show specific genetic relationships to subsequent Eurasian populations, 40,000-year-old ‘Tianyuan’ individual from China contributed to the genetic ancestry of ancient and present-day East Asian populations.”

“Another open question is the extent to which modern humans mixed with Neanderthals when they spread across Europe and Asia.”

Sites with modern human genome-wide data older than 40,000 years (red circles) or older than 30,000 years (yellow circles), sites in Europe with modern human remains older than 40,000 years (red squares) and sites with Initial Upper Paleolithic assemblages (black squares). Image credit: Hajdinjak et al., doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-03335-3.

In the new study, the researchers sequenced the genomes from the modern human remains dated to between 45,930 and 42,580 years ago.

The specimens were found in direct association with an assemblage of artifacts in Bacho Kiro Cave, Bulgaria.

“They are the earliest Late Pleistocene modern humans known to have been recovered in Europe so far, and were found in association with an Initial Upper Paleolithic artifact assemblage,” the scientists said.

Unlike two previously studied Oase1 and Ust’Ishim individuals who did not contribute detectably to later populations, the Bacho Kiro individuals are more closely related to present-day and ancient populations in East Asia and the Americas than to later west Eurasian populations.

Moreover, the authors found that all three individuals had Neanderthal ancestors a few generations back in their family history.

This suggests that mixing between Neanderthals and the first modern humans that arrived into Europe was perhaps more common than is often assumed.

“We found that the Bacho Kiro Cave individuals had higher levels of Neanderthal ancestry than nearly all other early humans, with the exception of ‘Oase1’ individual from Romania,” Dr. Hajdinjak said.

“Crucially, most of this Neanderthal DNA comes in extremely long stretches. This shows that these individuals had Neanderthal ancestors some five to seven generations back in their family trees.”

“The results suggest that the first modern humans that arrived in Eurasia mixed frequently with Neanderthals,” added senior author Professor Svante Pääbo, a researcher in the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

“They may even have become absorbed into resident Neanderthal populations. Only later on did larger modern human groups arrive and replace the Neanderthals.”

The findings were published in the journal Nature.

M. Hajdinjak et al. 2021. Initial Upper Palaeolithic humans in Europe had recent Neanderthal ancestry. Nature 592, 253-257 doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-03335-3


Neanderthals vs. Homo sapiens: Inside the 100,000-year-long battle for supremacy

The archaeological record confirms Neanderthal lives were anything but peaceful.

Around 600,000 years ago, humanity split in two. One group stayed in Africa, evolving into us. The other struck out overland, into Asia, then Europe, becoming Homo neanderthalensis – the Neanderthals. They weren’t our ancestors, but a sister species, evolving in parallel.

Neanderthals fascinate us because of what they tell us about ourselves – who we were, and who we might have become. It’s tempting to see them in idyllic terms, living peacefully with nature and each other, like Adam and Eve in the Garden. If so, maybe humanity’s ills – especially our territoriality, violence, wars – aren’t innate, but modern inventions.

Biology and paleontology paint a darker picture. Far from peaceful, Neanderthals were likely skilled fighters and dangerous warriors, rivaled only by modern humans.

Top predators

Predatory land mammals are territorial, especially pack-hunters. Like lions, wolves, and Homo sapiens, Neanderthals were cooperative big-game hunters. These predators, sitting atop the food chain, have few predators of their own, so overpopulation drives conflict over hunting grounds. Neanderthals faced the same problem if other species didn’t control their numbers, the conflict would have.

This territoriality has deep roots in humans. Territorial conflicts are also intense in our closest relatives, chimpanzees. Male chimps routinely gang up to attack and kill males from rival bands, a behavior strikingly like human warfare. This implies that cooperative aggression evolved in the common ancestor of chimps and ourselves, 7 million years ago. If so, Neanderthals will have inherited these same tendencies towards cooperative aggression.

All too human

Warfare is an intrinsic part of being human. War isn’t a modern invention, but an ancient, fundamental part of our humanity. Historically, all peoples warred. Our oldest writings are filled with war stories. Archaeology reveals ancient fortresses and battles, and sites of prehistoric massacres going back millennia.

To war is human – and Neanderthals were very like us. We’re remarkably similar in our skull and skeletal anatomy, and share 99.7% of our DNA. Behaviourally, Neanderthals were astonishingly like us. They made a fire, buried their dead, fashioned jewelry from seashells and animal teeth, made artwork and stone shrines. If Neanderthals shared so many of our creative instincts, they probably shared many of our destructive instincts, too.

Violent lives

The archaeological record confirms Neanderthal lives were anything but peaceful.

Neanderthalensis were skilled big game hunters, using spears to take down deer, ibex, elk, bison, even rhinos and mammoths. It defies belief to think they would have hesitated to use these weapons if their families and lands were threatened. Archaeology suggests such conflicts were commonplace.

Prehistoric warfare leaves telltale signs. A club to the head is an efficient way to kill – clubs are fast, powerful, precise weapons – so prehistoric Homo sapiens frequently show trauma to the skull. So too do Neanderthals.

Another sign of warfare is the parry fracture, a break to the lower arm caused by warding off blows. Neanderthals also show a lot of broken arms. At least one Neanderthal, from Shanidar Cave in Iraq, was impaled by a spear to the chest. Trauma was especially common in young Neanderthal males, as were deaths. Some injuries could have been sustained in hunting, but the patterns match those predicted for a people engaged in intertribal warfare- small-scale but intense, prolonged conflict, wars dominated by guerrilla-style raids and ambushes, with rarer battles.

The Neanderthal resistance

War leaves a subtler mark in the form of territorial boundaries. The best evidence that Neanderthals not only fought but excelled at war, is that they met us and weren’t immediately overrun. Instead, for around 100,000 years, Neanderthals resisted modern human expansion.

Why else would we take so long to leave Africa? Not because the environment was hostile but because Neanderthals were already thriving in Europe and Asia.

It’s exceedingly unlikely that modern humans met the Neanderthals and decided to just live and let live. If nothing else, population growth inevitably forces humans to acquire more land, to ensure sufficient territory to hunt and forage food for their children. But an aggressive military strategy is also a good evolutionary strategy.

Instead, for thousands of years, we must have tested their fighters, and for thousands of years, we kept losing. In weapons, tactics, strategy, we were fairly evenly matched.

Neanderthals probably had tactical and strategic advantages. They’d occupied the Middle East for millennia, doubtless gaining intimate knowledge of the terrain, the seasons, how to live off the native plants and animals. In battle, their massive, muscular builds must have made them devastating fighters in close-quarters combat. Their huge eyes likely gave Neanderthals superior low-light vision, letting them maneuver in the dark for ambushes and dawn raids.

Sapiens victorious

Finally, the stalemate broke, and the tide shifted. We don’t know why. It’s possible the invention of superior ranged weapons – bows, spear-throwers, throwing clubs – let lightly-built Homo sapiens harass the stocky Neanderthals from a distance using hit-and-run tactics. Or perhaps better hunting and gathering techniques let sapiens feed bigger tribes, creating numerical superiority in battle.

Even after primitive Homo sapiens broke out of Africa 200,000 years ago, it took over 150,000 years to conquer Neanderthal lands. In Israel and Greece, archaic Homo sapiens took ground only to fall back against Neanderthal counteroffensives, before a final offensive by modern Homo sapiens, starting 125,000 years ago, eliminated them.

This wasn’t a blitzkrieg, as one would expect if Neanderthals were either pacifists or inferior warriors, but a long war of attrition. Ultimately, we won. But this wasn’t because they were less inclined to fight. In the end, we likely just became better at war than they were.


North Africa and the Middle East

Thought the migrations of Modern Man into Europe, Asia, and the Americas, (and the civilizations created in those places), is covered here. The bulk of our presentation deals with Man's migration into North Africa and the Middle East. Where he creates great civilizations in Nubia, Egypt, Canaan, Mesopotamia, Iran, and India. Links at the bottom of the page, guide you through the presentation.

Specifics of these ancient East African migrations, which led to Modern Man's colonization of the entire world can be found here. Though as one would expect, when it comes to European and Anatolian (Turkey) settlement, it is not only inaccurate, it is downright Racist. But what would you expect? https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/genographic/lan/en/atlas.html

MARCH 14, 2011

Researchers find that modern humans originated in southern Africa

The largest analysis of the genomic diversity of African hunter-gatherer populations reveals that modern humans likely originated in southern Africa, rather than eastern Africa as is generally assumed. This study provides the clearest idea yet of where modern humans originated.

About 60,000 years ago, modern humans left Africa and began the spread to other regions of the world. But the great genetic diversity of African populations made it hard to accurately predict where in Africa humans might have originated. Now, a team led by postdoctoral scholar in genetics Brenna Henn, PhD, and biology professor Marcus Feldman, PhD, has found that modern humans likely originated in southern Africa. To reach this conclusion, the researchers analyzed the largest dataset to date for hunter-gatherer populations. The study was published online March 7 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

&ldquoOur belief used to be that the center of humans leaving Africa was in east Africa. This paper focuses attention on southern Africa, and in particular a group of hunter-gatherers, the Bushmen, who speak one of the Khoisan languages,&rdquo said Feldman. These languages are characterized by the presence of &ldquoclick&rdquo sounds.

Africa has been inferred to be the continent of origin for all modern human populations, with the earliest modern-human skulls having been discovered in east Africa. In addition, populations outside Africa contain a subset of the genetic diversity found there. As modern humans moved eastward, the level of variation decreased, reaching its minimum in the Americas. But the details of genetic evolution within Africa have remained hazy.

This is mainly because African populations are some of the most genetically diverse in the world. A lack of sufficient genetic samples, especially from the hunter-gatherer populations, made it hard to infer much about early human evolutionary history. &ldquoWe&rsquove just never had enough people represented in our studies before,&rdquo Feldman said. &ldquoWithout the participation of these people, patterns of evolution within Africa can&rsquot be determined,&rdquo he said.

The current study provides &ldquoa much more satisfying answer,&rdquo said Feldman. &ldquoWe just didn&rsquot have as much DNA data earlier,&rdquo he said. Before this study, only a handful of Namibian Khoisan-speakers had been compared with other Africans. To get an accurate picture, the researchers needed to compare the genetics of different hunter-gatherer populations, as well as individuals within each population, at hundreds of thousands of sites in the DNA. According to Feldman, the researchers needed the participation of more Bushmen, and Henn, the paper&rsquos first author, accomplished this.

The scientists analyzed variations in the individual nucleotide bases that make up DNA. They genotyped 650,000 such individual changes or &ldquosingle-nucleotide polymorphisms&rdquo in people from 25 African populations. Apart from the click-speaking hunter-gatherer populations from South Africa and Tanzania, they also studied Pygmies and 21 agriculturalist populations. Statistical analysis showed that the Bushmen had the greatest genetic variation and are most likely to be the source population from which all other African populations diverged.

Different genetic variants contain different combinations of genes, which can be thought of as a single string. Genetic recombination breaks these strings into smaller segments. The older the population, the shorter the segments and the greater the genetic variation. It was already known that the most variation and hence shortest segments occurred in Africa. The new study found that within Africa, the Bushmen have the shortest segments, and segment length increases as one moves from south to north.

More than 5,000 years ago, sub-Saharan Africa was populated mainly by linguistically and culturally diverse hunter-gatherer populations. Since then, most of these populations have either gone extinct or turned to agriculture and pastoral living, leaving only the Pygmies in central Africa, a click-speaking tribe of Tanzania, the Hadza, and southern African Bushmen, as the last hunter-gatherers.

&ldquoThe paper is also fascinating in that some hunter-gatherer groups have never mixed with their neighbors,&rdquo said Feldman. &ldquoThe mystery is whether there ever was a connection between the different click-speaking peoples in the past. Brenna and the team have shown that if such a connection ever existed, it was long before the invention of agriculture.&rdquo

As evidence of the uniqueness of some of these populations, the researchers found that certain immune system proteins that appear almost nowhere else on Earth occurred at a higher frequency in one hunter-gatherer group. The scientists also found signs of natural selection related to genes involved in immune response and protection against pathogens.

Henn and Julie Granka, a graduate student in biology, recently revisited the South African Bushmen who participated in the study and took height and skin color measurements from the people whose DNA they had analyzed. &ldquoWe will be collaborating with several South African scholars to look at such phenotypes in more detail,&rdquo Feldman said.

According to Feldman, despite large ongoing projects researchers still don&rsquot know enough about human variation. &ldquoNot enough populations around the world have been studied,&rdquo he said. For example, &ldquoWe don&rsquot know much about Australian Aboriginals, indigenous Americans or South Asian people, who comprise nearly a sixth of the world&rsquos population,&rdquo he said.

Feldman and other researchers working with the Human Genome Diversity Project, based at Centre d&rsquoÉtude du Polymorphisme Humain in Paris, hope to engage other populations in the search for their evolutionary ancestry. &ldquoThere are lots of evolutionary problems to be solved,&rdquo he said. &ldquoAnalysis of DNA is our best chance to solve them.&rdquo

Genetics professor Carlos Bustamante, PhD, and postdoctoral scholar Jeffrey Kidd, PhD, are co-authors on the study, funded by the Center for Human Origins and Evolution, the Morrison Institute for Population and Resource Studies at Stanford, a UCSF Chancellor&rsquos Graduate Research Fellowship and the National Institutes of Health.


Neanderthals could talk, and it probably wasn’t the “ooga booga” you expected

Now that we don’t live in caves and beat things with clubs anymore, Homo sapiens tend to have a preconceived notion of our Neanderthal ancestors as being so primitive that the only way they could communicate was beating their chests and grunting.

That couldn’t be further from the truth, say scientists who recently found out some surprising things about how Neanderthals talked to each other. They probably had some sort of a language. Though it might have not been as sophisticated as how we speak now, which is probably why those “so easy a caveman can do it” car insurance commercials exist, the ear structures in Neanderthal skulls revealed that they were capable of picking up on the wavelengths associated with human language.

More evolution

“The study of audition in fossil hominids is of great interest given its relationship with intraspecific vocal communication…[but] less is known about the hearing abilities of the Neanderthals,” said a multidisciplinary team of researchers who were able to prove that what may seem like as a brute prototype of a human being was smarter than most of us might have thought. Their study was recently published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Neanderthals or Homo neanderthalensis are our closest predecessors. They are thought to have died out because they could not adapt to chasing smaller, swifter prey with their spears and growing vegetables after the megafauna (such as mammoths and woolly rhinos) they hunted died out. Some argue that because Neanderthals interbred with modern humans, they are not technically extinct because their bloodline never really died out. Many of us have a small percentage of Neanderthal blood running through our veins and don’t even know it.

Neanderthals were more like us than you might think. Credit: Alain Pitton/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Whether any other human species was capable of spoken language has been a question that could only be answered by the silent bones of those that came before us. Hi-res CT scans were used to examine the skulls of Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and another ancient hominid species. Using the CT scans to reconstruct virtual 3D models of the ear structures once attached to those skulls was what ultimately showed who could and couldn’t communicate with what we recognize as language. Both the outer and inner ear help us understand each other.

When someone says something, the external part of your ear sends the vibrations into the ear canal until they hit the eardrum. Those same vibrations make the eardrum vibrate and cause the auditory ossicles, three tiny bone structures in the middle ear, to also vibrate. Vibrations then stream through the fluid of the spiral inner ear cavity known as the cochlea and into the adjacent basilar membrane. Next to that membrane are receptor cells with tiny hairlike cilia that also vibrate and trigger neurons when they move. These neurons are connected to the auditory nerve, which zaps information to your brain.

After virtual models of human and hominid ears were created, the research team analyzed them and entered their findings into a computer model that would give them an idea of each individual’s hearing ability within the frequency range of most sounds that occur in human speech. They also figured out the occupied bandwidth—the frequency range where there is the most hearing sensitivity. The greater the bandwidth, the greater the capacity to understand oral communication. Fossils of earlier hominids that Neanderthal ancestors had the worst hearing.

Neanderthals were found to have had hearing abilities that are eerily close to ours. They probably used more consonants than vowels, since consonants maximize the amount of information communicated in the shortest amount of time. So much for “ooga booga”.

“The occupied bandwidth of Neanderthals was greater than the Sima de los Huesos hominins and similar to extant humans, implying that Neanderthals evolved the auditory capacities to support a vocal communication system as efficient as modern human speech,” the scientists said.