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The Disappeared Neighbors: Neanderthal DNA and Us

Until about 30 thousand years ago, the Neanderthals lived next to us. How different were they from us, why did they suddenly disappear and did we have a hand in their disappearance? The mapping of the Neanderthal genome, which will be completed soon, may provide answers to some of these questions

The appearance of a Neanderthal child as reconstructed by a computer program for reconstructing the appearance of murder victims based on a skeleton found by Dorothy Garrod. Photo courtesy of the University of Zurich (link at the end of the article)
The appearance of a Neanderthal child as reconstructed by a computer program for reconstructing the appearance of murder victims based on a skeleton found by Dorothy Garrod. Photo courtesy of the University of Zurich (link at the end of the article)

Michal Salomon, "Galileo"

The Neanderthals were a group in the chain of human evolution (that is, they were hominids) closest to humans living today, but they were not our ancestors. Remains of Neanderthals or of characteristics of their culture were found mainly in Europe but also in Western Asia and even in Israel, in the Carmel Caves and Nahal Amud.

Who were the Neanderthals who lived at the same time as our ancestors for hundreds of thousands of years until they became extinct about 30 thousand years ago? If in the past Neanderthals were considered stupid and inferior creatures, today the popular opinion is completely different.

From an interdisciplinary study conducted in recent years in Europe, the United States and Israel, it appears that the size of their brain was similar in volume to that of the ancient man (about 1400 cc). They created efficient tools and their diet, although it was less varied than that of the ancient man, included meat and even fish according to the environment in which they lived. Therefore, today the popular opinion is that the Neanderthals were intelligent creatures who knew how to make good use of their environment. If so, how can their disappearance be explained?

Various hypotheses have been put forward to try and solve the question of the extinction of the Neanderthal population. Among these hypotheses we will mention violence towards the Neanderthals on the part of the ancient man. Although there is no evidence of coexistence of Neanderthals and early man there is geographic overlap between their populations.

In Carmel, for example, a Neanderthal site was found a few meters from the site of the ancient man. Both species have been dated to the same period, so at least in some areas they may have lived in close proximity. In addition to this, in some Neanderthal sites we see a change in the material culture (which has not changed for 300,000 years) with the arrival of man, and it is possible that this change also indicates a close neighborhood between the two populations and the transfer of technologies from man to Neanderthal.
However, the hypothesis of violence between the two populations is based on a small number of Neanderthal bones showing sharp tool scars. However, even if we assume that they originate from violence on the part of the ancient man and not from a hunting accident, for example, the scar indicates that the individual did not die from the injury but recovered from it.

An article published in May in the Journal of Anthropological Sciences reinforces the hypothesis of violence against Neanderthals by presenting a case where an early human of our own kind ate a Neanderthal. Assuming that the interpretation of the finding is correct, could it be that this is only a secondary event, which has no cause for the disappearance of the Neanderthals?

Another hypothesis for the disappearance of the Neanderthals is the appearance of a pathogen (causing a disease) to which the Neanderthal population was sensitive, while humans of our species were resistant to it. There is no evidence for this hypothesis except for a small number of bones in two archaeological sites where different and random lesions were seen, which do not indicate a plague.

Basically, a difference in resistance to a pathogen between two populations could be due to differences in lifestyle, but in this case the two populations lived nomadic lives in similar environments. The possibility that the pathogen came from the animals was rejected since the process of domestication only started about 20,000 years after the disappearance of the last Neanderthals.

A third hypothesis is based on a radical change in climate that occurred near the time of the Neanderthals' extinction. Those who lived through the last ice age were traditionally considered to have a good ability to adapt to cold conditions. According to this hypothesis, it is possible that the warming after the last ice age and the melting of the glaciers made life difficult for the Neanderthals, significantly reduced their living environment, limited the suitable area in terms of hunting and ultimately led to their extinction.

A fourth hypothesis points to different diet and hunting methods. A study of the stable carbon (C13) and nitrogen (N15) isotopes in the bones of the Neanderthals and early humans showed that the Neanderthals fed almost exclusively on animals, while the diet of early humans was more diverse and was also based on plant protein.
The hunting method of the Neanderthals involved sticking the arrow in the hunted animal, while the primitive man threw the arrow in the direction of the animal. The second method required less energy and was more suitable for open areas, which became more extensive with the climate change that followed the last ice age and with it the disappearance of the forests. The Neanderthals did not know how to adapt their hunting method to the new environmental conditions and in the competition for the same resources it was the man of our species who ate at the end of the day.

The anatomical structure of the Neanderthals also weighed on the efficiency of the hunt, since the limbs of the Neanderthals were short compared to the limbs of the primitive man. This anatomical structure made it difficult for them to move quickly to attack or to escape. In order to walk and run, the Neanderthal required about 30% more energy compared to the ancient man. Also the different position of the pelvic bone in the Neanderthals made it difficult to absorb shocks while walking or running. If so, a fifth hypothesis holds that the anatomical structure of the Neanderthals led to their extinction.

A comparison between the skull size of the Neanderthals and the primitive man reveals a difference mainly in the rate of brain growth. The Neanderthal brain reached its full size already at the age of 8-6 years. At this age, the Neanderthal brain was 10% larger than that of a child of the same age.

Since the brains of the babies in both populations are the same in size, the researchers concluded that the brains of the Neanderthal children grew at a faster rate, and that this had a heavy price - the mother had to provide more resources for her baby compared to what was required of the primitive human mother. From this, a team of researchers, led by Kristof Zollikofer, concluded that the Neanderthals required a longer period of time between pregnancies and this had a direct impact on the size of the population.

The sixth and boldest hypothesis of all holds that there were reproductive relations (sexual relations) between the two populations until a single population derived from the Neanderthals and the primitive man was obtained. This theory is based on the finding of three ancient human skeletons (in western Portugal, Romania, the Czech Republic) that were about 30,000 years old and have characteristics some of which are typical of Neanderthals.

Two mutations that say it all
In a genetic study conducted in the laboratory of Carl Lalueza-Fox (Lalueza-Fox) in Spain, the possibility that red hair and freckles are features originating from Neanderthals was examined. In this study, it was found that among the Neanderthal bones from which DNA was extracted, there were those in which a mutation in the MC1R gene was seen, indicating the peonies of the hair. But this mutation is different from those found in red-haired people living today. This means that there is no connection between the events of the creation of mutations in Neanderthals and in humans, even though the result in both cases is similar.

Along with studies that focus on one specific gene, recently developed cutting-edge technologies make it possible to decipher entire genomes of extinct animals (these studies are among the ten studies selected by the science weekly Science as the most important studies in 2008.
The research group led by Svante Pääbo, from the Max Planck Institute in Germany, managed to find Neanderthal bones with an exceptional level of preservation, which allowed them to publish in August 2008 the mitochondrial genome sequence of Neanderthals (from the Vindija Cave in Croatia). According to this study, the lines of evolution of early man and Neanderthals diverged about 140,000-600,000 years ago. These researchers also compared the mitochondrial genome sequence of Neanderthal, man and chimpanzee, but the evolutionary significance of the differences found is still unclear.

When the mapping of the entire Neanderthal genome is completed, a comparison will be made with both the human genome (decoded in 2003) and the chimpanzee genome (decoded in 2004). From a comparison between these genomes we can learn about the evolution of genes throughout evolution and hence about certain traits in the population, which are of evolutionary importance.

The research group led by Pabo, which studies the Neanderthal genome, has already indicated an important contribution to the understanding of the Neanderthals that may be obtained from a suitable study. In their search for a genetic difference between chimpanzees and humans, the researchers identified a gene that is important in the normal development of speech and language, the FOXP gene (forkhead box P2). Two mutations in this gene differentiate us from the chimpanzees.

Another mutation in this gene, found in children with speech difficulties, impairs the activity of the gene and causes speech difficulties as a result of a defect in the part of the brain that translates the intention of speech into certain muscle movements. The researchers concluded that two mutations that distinguish us from the chimpanzees are essential for our ability to speak and develop a complex language and focused their work on the two mutations in the Neanderthals.

To their surprise, the researchers discovered in the Neanderthals the form of the gene characteristic of modern man, the one that includes the two mutations that enable speech and language. It is necessary to wait for the determination of the sequence of the entire gene to make sure that there are no additional mutations, but it is definitely a surprise. The surprise stemmed from the fact that genetic models predicted that the characteristic form of the human gene is 200,000 years old and did not exist in Neanderthals.
Only a direct examination of the Neanderthal genome revealed that these two mutations already occurred before the evolutionary split between Neanderthals and early humans or that there was a transfer of this form of gene from humans to Neanderthals. This study shows that the communication ability of the Neanderthals may have been better than previously thought. The ability to speak is essential not only for communication and social skill development but also for passing on memories, life experience and knowledge from generation to generation.

Neanderthals, as mentioned, had a brain volume quite similar to that of modern man. Will the overall mapping of the Neanderthal genome show that they were just like us? Or was their mind less developed (adapted to intuitive activity only), less flexible in its abilities, and less able to adapt to changing environmental conditions? Wasn't their mind up to the challenges they faced and it was he who ultimately caused their disappearance? Or maybe the theory that the Neanderthal disappeared due to reproductive relations between him and the primitive man is correct?

The gene that will answer the last question is microcephalin. This gene configuration, which has undergone particularly strong positive selection throughout human evolution (as written before), starting 37,000 years ago, is the most common configuration in Europe today and is lacking in Africa. Finding this configuration in the Neanderthal genome will prove the transfer of genes from the Neanderthal to the early man and confirm this theory for the disappearance of the Neanderthals.

Dr. Michal Salmon is a geneticist, an expert on ancient DNA. She completed a PhD in a combined program of the Weizmann Institute of Science and Tel Aviv University, and a post-doctorate at Harvard, USA.

Link to the University of Zurich which contributed the image

33 תגובות

  1. Host of the Universe:
    It is not possible to tell from the structure of the pelvis whether he runs faster or less than Homo sapiens.
    Besides - I searched in the link you gave the words "clumsy" and "basin".
    The word "clumsy" does not appear at all and the word "pelvis" appears in a completely different context.
    Did you give a different link than the one you meant?

  2. Host of the Universe:
    There is a lot of nonsense in your words:
    1. The muscle difference was probably much greater than the difference in bone weight. It is more likely that the Neanderthal actually ran faster - just like a bear ran faster. In any case - what is the assumption that Neanderthals were clumsy based on?
    2. If the matter of the weight of the bones, the Neanderthals could use their excess strength and steal the prey from the Homo sapiens.
    3. None of this has anything to do with the debate about women in the army.

    In my opinion, your theory is much less than the theories presented in the article.

  3. The solution to the puzzle is probably the heavy bone structure.
    When 2 races compete for the same resources, and when these resources go
    And shrinking, let's say following an ice age, or local climate changes, the ability to run after an animal instead of following it heavily, makes a difference. Even if the Neanderthals were more intelligent, and much stronger physically. Man was simply faster.
    Pay attention in our day, how many discussions there are about women with visceral nausea, when at issue is the well-known fact that the muscle difference between the two sexes is a total of about 10% on average!

  4. I think they met humans, saw what kind of neighbors they had and just left.

  5. To Michael
    At the time (as is customary to say), in my estimation about two or three years ago, we already discussed this issue and in my response I directed the readers of "Hidan" to the sources that support the domestication version, including many archaeological finds (!!!).
    You replied to me then, to the best of my recollection, that this theory is new to you, but you have a good friend who is an expert researcher in this field and you would like to consult him. At that time your friend went abroad and therefore the matter was forgotten then.
    In the meantime, have you asked him about this hypothesis?

  6. The skeptic:
    As far as I know, there is no information in the archaeological findings that confirms or contradicts the coexistence of the two populations.
    Most of the Neanderthal finds generally belong to the period before Homo sapiens.
    Our knowledge of genetics does not allow, in my opinion, to know if a common offspring of both sexes will be fertile - after all, there is not even a way to predict the fertility of a contemporary person based on his DNA.
    Also - it is not known if the two sexes could have had offspring together and certainly not if such offspring could have lived or died in childhood.
    As mentioned - I do not rule out the possibility that they never had common offspring with Homo sapiens - even though they tried (I do not accept your statement that the maternal need could have influenced the matter - both because of the lack of knowledge and because the parents' love for their children is something that the parents only begin to understand after that they have children - not before).

  7. Michael, you're right, they couldn't have noticed if they had an infertile mixed-race child or not...
    But in order for your theory to work, it would be necessary to find more findings that show the bodies of the Saiyans and the Neanderthals in the same area... and as far as I know (and I may be wrong) they usually found separate tribes of Homosapiens and Neanderthals separately... right?

    post Scriptum. I'm not a big biologist either, but I think it's possible to check whether the offspring of both sexes are really sterile or not... right?

  8. A. Ben-Ner:
    There is no evidence of Neanderthals being killed by humans (there are some for other animals).
    There is little evidence of cohabitation.
    This fits my argument and does not fit yours.
    Besides - it's true that someone else completely answered you regarding animal domestication.

    Someone else entirely:
    You will not be surprised, but in the meantime they searched and did not find.

    Ziv and Eddie:
    It's all a matter of population sizes.
    When there are many Homosapiens and few Neanderthals (which is what happened) the result I described is guaranteed because it doesn't matter who you are - most likely there will be Homo Sapiens among your partner and therefore even if the culture of the Homosapiens was damaged in some way - that of the Neanderthals was almost completely inhibited.

    The unsatisfied skeptic:
    What I said is that I'm not even sure they noticed.
    As I said - I'm not even sure that they knew that sexual contact leads to pregnancy, and even if they did - it doesn't always work, so it's quite certain that they didn't know that a relationship between Neanderthals and Homosapiens was not fertile, and even if they were able to reach this diagnosis, the scenario in which an infertile offspring is created - I'm sure it didn't even come up In their opinion (especially since most parents never got to be grandparents at all).

  9. to 9 Apart from nicely asking those who encounter the problem to switch from Explorer (where it exists) to Firefox or Chrome (where it does not exist) there is not much to do. Trust me we tried everything.

    Basically, the site should work well on all platforms, but for some reason there are ads on the right that are unruly.

    my father

  10. Michael, I think that the maternal need existed even then, otherwise it would have been difficult for the race to survive... That's why I find it hard to believe that after they realized that there were no children from mating, they continued the tradition...
    But nice theory anyway 🙂

  11. Michael Rothschild,
    Regarding your theory in 4:

    Why do you think the failure to produce offspring/produce infertile offspring only worked against the Neanderthals, and not against the Spines as well?

  12. "The gene that will answer the last question is microcephalin. This gene configuration, which has undergone particularly strong positive selection throughout human evolution (as written before), starting 37,000 years ago, is the configuration that is common today in Europe and is missing in Africa. Finding this configuration in the Neanderthal genome will prove the transfer of genes from the Neanderthal to the ancient man and confirm this theory for the disappearance of the Neanderthals."
    Question: Is the fact that the invention of the gene in the European Spines is absolute proof of the correctness of the theory regarding the transfer of genes from the Neanderthals to the Spines? No. It is possible that the gene in the spines is the result of a genetic development (mutation) independent of the mating between the two species. This is circumstantial evidence, nothing more.

    Question: Is this gene also found among Asian races? If the theory of transferring genes from the Neanderthals to the Spaniards in Europe is correct - then we have to say that this gene should also be found in the Asian races. If we do not find the gene in the Asians - the theory is wrong, since the Neanderthal name also disappeared, and it is not possible that it disappeared due to its absorption in the spines after pairings between the species.

  13. You can really notice some common physical characteristic that redheads have and there is something in it that reminds of the boy in the picture

  14. I remember reading an article about the racial origin of the peoples in Europe that the Basques are not Indo-European and are a very ancient people and may have a mixed Neanderthal origin

  15. In my opinion, a point that was messed up at least in this article, is the attempt to compare their survival to the survival of the primitive man and not to the survival of other species.. It is not certain that man is the one who "defeated" them, probably it is the environment, I believe that the primitive man did not distinguish him from Nadertali except for the fact that he is probably "a member of a tribe Another" that is difficult to understand.. and not an anti-Nadertal organization in his that made him fight specifically against him.
    That's why intersexual reproduction - (successful or not (thanks to Michael Rothschild - for the distinction)) must have happened, but why did man survive it while the Nadertali did not... violence between them also happened, of course - again the man survived the Nadertali didn't.. why animals of Zoroa The ice adapted like the Nadertali for winter - survived (of course in some - for example the mammoth) and the Nadertali did not... Interracial assimilation would be suitable as an explanation, but there is no evidence yet .. In my opinion the Nadertali multiplied less - this is the main explanation and in combination with unsuccessful intersexual scum and violence and reduction of areas of control .. He disappeared - as in the invasion of one tribe to another. The more organized, the more numerous, the more agile and the more flexible survives.. and the other also but in low numbers (see Bushmen) but if there is no inter-racial reproduction and slow intra-racial reproduction .. the result is extinction.

  16. To 9
    This is not my father's problem to solve
    And if anything, I sometimes deliberately click on the ads for the sake of knowledge

    If you don't want ads
    There is a software called ad muncher and it allows you to surf without ads whatsoever

  17. Regarding feelings.
    It seems more accurate to me to say that they had "Neanderthal feelings" (!!!) The homosfians of this nation had (and some still have) humane feelings.
    To what extent was there "emotional communication" in the Neanderthals to the Humans?……….
    It is known to everyone that the humanistic feelings are extremely diverse and complex and often even hidden, so much so that even we, the homosfians, often find it difficult to decipher each other's feelings.
    On the other hand, it is much easier for us to decipher, for example, the emotions of our dog because they are less varied and not hidden.
    Is it possible that it was precisely the Neanderthal's emotional traits that put him in a backward position compared to Homospiens?
    For example, is it possible that aggressive feelings prevented him from including the social structure and as a result prevented effective cooperation necessary for protection and obtaining food in Neanderthal society?
    It is possible that their social fabric collapsed and some of them, those who were not exterminated, managed to join the Homospianes and produce mixed descendants.
    Reminds a bit of the story about the Inca and Mayan tribes in South America whose culture led them to destruction but, many items from them, their descendants
    The genetic ones, still live and multiply with the European peoples who conquered them.

  18. 10 (Ben-Ner) according to the article did not have an advantage for Homosfians in the same
    A point in time in terms of animal culture, because animal culture began around twenty thousand
    years later.
    By the way, inbreeding is exterminating the feral cat population, though
    that the offspring are fertile (and it is a population that is easy to identify its diversity
    the genetic); want to say that I wouldn't be particularly surprised if some of us carry genes

  19. to Michael Rothschild.
    It seems to me that you were excessively optimistic in your explanation that the love relationship (Make love - not war) between the Neanderthals and the Homospiens led to the extinction of the Neanderthals.
    I rather tend to believe (unfortunately) that the world of our ancestors was a world of leaves and forces full of wars over territories and sources of life such as water and hunting areas.
    I remind you that articles on this subject have already been published in the past, above the pages of science.
    And even then I brought up a theory that I read (in the more distant past) that,
    The main advantage of the Homo sapiens stemmed from its ability to breed animals!!! Such as: dogs, chickens, cattle and sheep. The culture of animals gave the homospeians advantages, both in hunting, both in the war against the Neanderthals (by dogs) and in food supply (by chickens, cattle and sheep). The animals consume forage grass that is not edible for humans and produce from it products such as milk, eggs and meat which are food for humans.
    Therefore, gentlemen, when you walk down the street and pass by any dog, know that your evolutionary connections with that dog are ancient and courageous connections, and therefore at least give it the respect it deserves (and deserves).

  20. Peace to my father.
    How can you overcome the hiding of ads on the lines of the article?
    Thanks for your help.

  21. Jacob:
    I don't know what humane feelings are, but if their absence is a reason to die, then all animals should have died.
    Besides - they survived a long time until they met with the homo sapiens - how did they do it without the same feelings?

  22. A response I sent to Galileo when I came across an article there:

    The extinction of the Neanderthals - another possibility - response to issue 133

    I read with interest Michal Salmon's article on this topic and decided to publish in response an idea that I have been holding "in my stomach" for many years.
    In my opinion, one of the most likely reasons for the complete disappearance of the Neanderthals is precisely their non-violent encounter with Homo sapiens.
    It is quite possible that these two hominid populations did adopt - simple in meaning - the slogan Make Love - Not war, but the pairings produced infertile offspring or no offspring at all.
    It should be remembered that although today we know that sexual relations are the way to bring offspring, other animals do not know this and they mate only because of the impulse that directs them to act in this way.
    It is likely that the hominids did not always insist on this connection - between sexual relations and offspring, and even if they did insist on it - bringing offspring was not a conscious goal according to which they directed their actions (and even if it was already a conscious goal - even more understanding is needed to recognize the fact that mating between Homo sapiens to Neanderthals is not fertile - especially if the problem is revealed only in the next generation).
    This hypothesis is in line with all the facts and according to it many findings of conflicts between the species are not expected, on the one hand, and Neanderthal remains in the human genome - on the other hand.

  23. I agree with Eyal, this whole thing is really very interesting...

    Point, you mean they all had male intercourse and didn't understand why they weren't reproducing?

  24. This field is fascinating.

    It is even more interesting if the reason for the disappearance of the Neadrethals is anatomical, because then it is really possible that their minds did not fall within our own capabilities, and then it is interesting where they would have ended up (in terms of accumulating knowledge and technology) if they had been given the opportunity. And in other words - could it be that we were overtaken by a turn, by the strength of the arm or just by a fox, another species similar to us but no less intelligent?

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