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What has led to the major re-evaluation of Neanderthal and modern human (Homo sapiens)

relations over the past decade(s)? How does this re-evaluation change how we understand
ourselves?

David Najda, najdad2, Student Number: 1217026, najdad2@mcmaster.ca

Life holds one of the greatest mysteries of how a single cell came to be and evolved into

multicellular organisms. Evolution is a greatly debated topic throughout history that has changed

the way we look to closer relatives. Neanderthals are one of the closest extinct human relatives,

for 200 000 years they dominated Europe and continent ravaged by ice ages and wild animals.

(Bonvillain, 2015, p. 258) Then 35 000 years ago they faced the ultimate challenge the arrival of

another human species, Homo Sapiens. Within the past few decades major discoveries of burials

and remains help answer the question of how closely are we related to them, how human are

these species compared to modern Homo Sapiens. Not too long ago a few major discoveries in

this field have lead to the revaluation of how modern humans are related to Neanderthals.

Considerable breakthroughs in genetics, prepared burials and language may link modern humans

closer to Neanderthals.

Within the past decade, technology has experience an exponential growth that has answered

many difficult questions. Neanderthals appearances look similar to modern humans but

genetically how close are they really related. The answer lies in DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid)

which is a molecule that carries the vital information used in the development, growth,

functioning and reproduction of all known living things. With modern discoveries of historic

sites and with careful extraction and preservation of fossils we are at most times able extract a

DNA sample and compare traits between Neanderthals and modern Homo Sapiens. In 1997,

Pbos team became the first to extract Neanderthal DNA from a tiny slice of a 40,000-year-old

humerus. (Resnick, 2016) After 17 years the team then published their results of findings and
they noticed something odd. Most genes looked oddly similar to human genes, more similar then

it was expected due to the fact how long ago each species diverged. (Resnick, 2016) When

analysed alongside sequences from a modern human, a Neanderthal, and a common chimpanzee,

the hominin (discovered by Pbo) was estimated to have diverged from humans and

Neanderthals about 1 million years ago. (Lanfear, 2010) If we were to compare two random

modern Homo Sapiens chromosomes, the difference would have been seen approximately every

thousand base pairs. With Neanderthals, there would be a difference once every 750 base pairs,

said by Josh Akey, a genetics research at University of Washington. (Resnick, 2016) With less

differences in match pairing it can only tell that Neanderthals are closely related to modern

humans then expected. Pbos findings has helped scholars better understand and distinguish

the relationships between modern humans and Neanderthals. If Neanderthals contributed to the

genetic history of humans, it would not be difficult to observe this fact. To conclude the overall

comparison between Neanderthals and modern Homo Sapiens is that Neanderthals have some

similarities in the gene pool. Neanderthal genes are present in current humans and that shows for

a time, Neanderthals, humans and probably other Homo species shared the earth long enough to

factor in re-evaluation of how we understand ourselves as humans.

Death is believed to be the end of life, it is one of the most discussed issues in religion,

philosophy and science have debated over since the beginning of human history. Dying is a

natural part in life, and is unique to ever culture in how they treat those who pass away. As

modern Homo Sapiens we have developed cultures and/or rituals in which we respect those who

pass away and bury them. Modern humans may have not been the first to do this as evidence of a

boy aged 15 to 16 years old was found. He was perfectly preserved with a beautifully fashioned

stone axe near his hand along with graves of five other children and two adults that seemed to be
a family plot. (Bonvillain, 2015, p. 266) There is a highly unlikely chance that these children fell

into their grave, this suggests that there was some thought or understanding taken into

consideration. Burial findings in La Chapelle-aux-Saints in southwestern France where more

Neanderthal remains, two children and one adult were also found. Further research in this

excavation concluded that, The relatively pristine nature of these 50,000-year-old remains

implies that they were covered soon after death (University, 2013) This strongly support that

Neanderthals in Europe took part in burying the dead. These finds along with the remains found

in Shanidar Cave in Iraq, where evidence of pollen was discovered on top of the body.

(Bonvillain, 2015) There is no solid evidence that flowers in particular were placed over the

body but there are no flowers that are able to survive in cave-like environments which suggest

they were placed there. As Dr. William Rendu, a researcher at New Yorks Center for

International Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences states, While we cannot know if

this practice was part of a ritual or merely pragmatic, the discovery reduces the behavioral

distance between them and us. (Wilford, 2013) Neanderthals may have participated in other

rituals but it is clearly evident that funeral rituals took place. Just as modern humans,

Neanderthals had an understanding of the life and buried their dead.

The most important trait of human beings and also set us apart from other mammals are the fact

that we are able to make consciousness decisions and communicate between one another. We

have the ability to think and make rational decisions based on our capability to speak. The

evidence of language capabilities among hominins comes from skeletal evidence like the

increased flexion of the basicranium. (Bonvillain, 2015, p. 246) There is no strong evidence that

language was used to communicate. The argument of bipedalism, which allowed the hands to be

free could contribute to increased communications by gestures among early hominins. Cave
paintings in Malaga, Spain, could be the oldest yet found and the first to have been created by

Neanderthals. (MacErlean, 2012) Some researchers believe that through this Neanderthals had

the same capabilities for symbolism, imagination and creativity as a way of communication as

modern humans do. Lydia Pyne, a historian, anthropologist, and author, states, That there's

something about our species maybe it's language, maybe it's culture, maybe it's our ability to

be bipedal and to walk on two legs that gives us this kind of evolutionary success. (Resnick,

Neanderthals were stereotyped as savages for a century all because of one French scientist,

2016) As Homo Sapiens like to think of ourselves as unique for many reasons, and because of

this we limit our thought in accepting that our closest relative could be more similar then

originally thought as. Associate Professor Stephen Wroe, a zoologist and palaeontologist from

UNE analyzed the mechanical behaviours of a fossilized bone with micro x-ray imaging and

compared models of that to modern humans. He discovered that in terms of mechanical

behaviour the Neanderthals behaviours is indistinguishable for our own, which suggests that the

key part of the vocal tract was used in the same way as modern humans do. (England, 2014) This

shows that Neanderthals could speak with one another but most likely not be able to

communicate with Homo Sapiens. Researchers in the area of DNA believe to have found a gene

called FOXP2, a gene related to language. They expected to find that the Neanderthal version of

the gene looked like the ancestral form, as found in chimpanzees, rather than the newer human

version, which differs from the chimps. But discovery led to that human changes appeared in the

Neanderthal DNA too. (Smith, 2007) There could be a possible explanation of this which could

be the team is sampling from interbreeding of a Neanderthal and human or a possible cross

contamination in the lab may have occurred. This technique can also be used for other traits to
compare like brain size and hair color which can lead to more similarities as Homo Sapiens to

Neanderthals.

In conclusion, there are various examples that illustrate the differences between the modern

Homo Sapiens and the Neanderthals. This significance is quite helpful because we are able to

compare two separate hominids in order to better understand the differences between each

species. The evidence concludes that Neanderthals are a group of extinct species that have

shocking similar characteristics and are evident in the Homo neanderthalensis species and the

Homo sapiens species. This makes the understanding of human evolution clearer then before

because it shows that Neanderthals and modern humans existed during the same time period. The

arguments are strong in that there is some overlap between the features in Homo sapiens and

those in Neanderthals. The prime existence of when Neanderthals lived and disappeared on Earth

is still and issue much questioned today and is debated constantly. It seems highly unlikely that

interbreeding and exchanging of DNA contributes nothing to the modern genome, but whether

they left us a culture or tradition to follow with burial rites and communication through various

types of languages may not be answered for a significant period of time. The Neanderthals

genetics, their rituals and skeletal traits in comparison with modern humans have been portrayed

who these individuals are and how they become an enormous subject of study for many

anthropologists, scientists and researchers. By discussing their comparable traits to modern

humans, this paper creates a more in depth look in the identity of Neanderthals themselves as a

species close to ours. This paper shows that the Neanderthals shared similar characteristics in

appearance and genetics with modern Homo Sapiens. Therefore, one can conclude that the study

of Neanderthals and modern humans (Homo sapiens) over the past few decade(s) have led to
conclusive results and made modern humans re-evaluate themselves as the dominant Homo

Sapiens species.
References
Bonvillain, N. a. (2015). Anthropology 1AA3: Sex, Food and Death Custom Text for
Anthropology 1AA3. Toronto: Nelson.
England, U. o. (2014, March 2). Talking Neanderthals challenge the origins of
speech. Retrieved from ScienceDaily:
www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140302185241.htm
Lanfear, S. Y. (2010). Ancient mitogenome from an unknown hominin. Taylor &
Francis Online, 147-148.
MacErlean, F. (2012, February 10). First Neanderthal cave paintings discovered in
Spain. Retrieved from New Scientist:
https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn21458-first-neanderthal-cave-
paintings-discovered-in-spain/
Resnick, B. (2016, September 14). Humans and Neanderthals had sex. But was it for
love? Retrieved from Vox: http://www.vox.com/2016/9/14/12887956/human-
neanderthal-sex-love-genetics
Resnick, B. (2016, September 20). Neanderthals were stereotyped as savages for a
century all because of one French scientist. Retrieved from Vox:
http://www.vox.com/2016/9/20/12968814/neanderthals-savages-stereotype-
boule
Smith, K. (2007, October 18). Modern speech gene found in Neanderthals. Retrieved
from Nature:
http://www.nature.com/news/2007/071018/full/news.2007.177.html
University, N. Y. (2013, Decemeber 16). Neanderthals buried their dead, new
research of remains concludes. Retrieved from ScienceDaily:
www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131216154328.htm
Wilford, J. N. (2013, December 16). Neanderthals and the Dead. Retrieved from The
New York Times - Science:
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/17/science/neanderthals-and-the-
dead.html?_r=0