Neanderthals: New Findings & Theories



This article alleges that autism in modern humans (and its particular prevalence in those of N/W European ancestry) derives from interbreeding between H.s.neanderthalensis and H.s.sapiens, and that the autistic mind is actually representative of a "normal" Neanderthal mentality...

As there have been a few threads on autism/Asperger's/ADHD and related issues on here, and i believe quite a few Forteans (including myself) have autistic traits, i thought quite a few people here would be interested... Opinions?

There are a whole load of links on there to a number of scientific things that i don't know much about, but the genetics/hybridisation stuff on there with relation to other species seems to be accurate... dunno about much of the human biology stuff...

What's the current scientific consensus on whether H.s.neanderthalensis contributed a significant element to the modern human gene pool?

A couple of threads about it on ... pid=193801 ... pid=190028
I find it highly speculative and unlikely as it stands - the main link form the first link:

Pretty much throws everything at it (including the evolution of dogs) and it strikes me as a rather flawed reading of the data and/or a selective picking of the bits that suit their theory.

Some of that stuff is just silly:

Faceblindness and Neanderthal faces

A real possibility is to check if faceblind people with autistic traits can recognize Neanderthals faces better than modern human faces. This would refute or confirm that prosapagnosia is caused by hybrid genes from Neanderthals

and this (none of which are "known" Neanderthal traits):

Prevalence of known Neanderthal traits in the autistic population

Online surveys indicate that probable Neanderthal traits / genes like flat foot, crooked tooth / underbite, Rhesus factor, hair color, freckles, factor V leiden and hemochormatosis are several times more prevalent than in the non-autistic population. Random, controlled, survey's could confirm or reject these findings.

I read something with more potential the other day:

In septembrer 2004, Marc-Antoine Alexandre Bourget has published his master thesis at UQAM showing that 29% of autistics have a mitochondrial DNA anomaly that allowed him to formulate his hypothesis of a mitochondrial neanderthal Eve that six genetic markers dated circa 27000 BC. While his hypothesis is considered controversial, it could explain the origin of autism by hybridation of neanderthal characteristics in homo sapiens lineage. That would explain the crossing over and inprinting in Prader-Willy Syndrome. This might explain the immunization problems relating to MMR vaccine.

but again it would need more work.
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Well, i'm not sure that i believe it... if i did believe it, then i have a pretty high proportion of Neanderthal ancestry, but given that Neanderthals were (on average) much more robust and much more cold-adapted than modern H.s.sapiens, and i'm 5'11", 9 stone (and incapable of putting on a pound), and incapable of being comfortable or fully mentally functional in any temperature under about 20 degrees (Celsius), i very much doubt that i'm one...

I posted it as an interesting theory to prove or disprove, rather than one i'm convinced or unconvinced by... although, if it achieves this:
The conclusion that can draw from all this, is that psychiatric disorders are no disorders or dysfunctions, rather the remains of a hybridization with Neanderthals. This should switch our current attitude from disordered to perfectly functional. It should also lead to better understanding, and new studies that will research exactly what is different.
then it becoming an accepted theory, even if it's actually false, would probably be a good thing...
I've suspended any judgement on whether modern humans might have any possible inherited traits, from our ancestors having interbred with neanderthalers, until some DNA evidence turns up.

Not much so far, I'm afraid. :hmm:
How Neandertal DNA Will Shed Light on Human Genes

Michael Egholm of 454 Life Sciences talks about his company's ambitious project to sequence the Neandertal genome.
By Emily Singer

Neandertals, our most closely related cousins, vanished approximately 30,000 years ago, leaving only traces of their existence. Now scientists in Germany and Connecticut plan to resurrect their DNA, potentially shedding light on our own unique evolutionary path.

Collecting and analyzing DNA from fossilized bones has been notoriously difficult--ancient genetic material is often degraded and contaminated with other types of DNA. But new sequencing technologies promise to extract volumes of genetic information from this molecular stew. A unique sequencing method developed by Connecticut-based 454 Life Sciences can analyze the sequence of thousands of DNA fragments in parallel, allowing the high volume of sequencing needed for the ambitious project to sequence the Neandertal genome.

Michael Egholm, vice president of 454 Life Sciences, and a speaker at Technology Review's Emerging Technology Conference this week, promises that the results will be exciting. Egholm and collaborators will compare the Neandertal sequence to that of humans and chimpanzees to identify uniquely human genes. The project could shed light on the evolution of human traits, such as language and complex thought. Here, Egholm tells us how researchers plan to complete the project and what they hope to find.

Technology Review: Will this be the first attempt to sequence Neandertal DNA?

Michael Egholm: Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute, our collaborator on the current project, has analyzed mitochondrial DNA from Neandertal samples. He was able to infer that Neandertals and homo sapiens came from a common ancestor and split approximately half a million years ago.

For the last several years, Pääbo, who more or less invented analysis of ancient DNA, had been trying to find a way to sequence the rest of the genome. He was on the verge of abandoning the research when he got a call from 454's founder, Jonathan Rothberg, who had always been interested in ancient DNA and was looking for the best people in the field to do an ancient DNA project.

TR: What are the biggest challenges in sequencing Neandertal DNA?

ME: There is almost none of it around--so Neandertal DNA is incredibly precious. The biggest challenge in actually sequencing the DNA is the fact that 95 percent of the genetic material in a Neandertal bone is microbial--from ancient bacteria. So when we sequence, we use brute force [running thousands of sequencing experiments in parallel to generate enough DNA sequences to separate the bacterial from the Neandertal DNA --TR]. In order to generate three billion bases of Neandertal DNA [about the length of the genome] we'll need to generate 20 times more bases of sequence, for a total of 60 billion bases for this project.

Another big challenge is that ancient DNA is so degraded--the DNA we use comes from a 38,000-year-old bone found in a cave in Croatia. The pieces are mostly 80 to 100 bases long, which is just enough for us to make sense of it. In order to piece together the genome, we take the DNA sequence we generate and map it against the human sequence.

We also worry about contamination from human DNA. Because we're working with a sample that is genetically so similar to us, it could be easily mixed up. We've spent a lot of time devising analysis to make sure we have ancient DNA. In that sense, DNA degradation is actually our friend: it gives a signature of old DNA.

TR: How will 454's sequencing technology make this ambitious project possible?

ME: It's simply a numbers game. Because you have to throw out 19 out of 20 of your reads [due to the presence of so much bacterial DNA], you need to be able to do a lot of sequencing. We generate a quarter of a million reads per run, while standard capillary sequencing only generates 96 reads at a time. [A "read" refers to the number of DNA fragments that can be sequenced, or read, in a single sequencing reaction.]

We have already generated a few test-runs of a million bases of Neandertal DNA. Before then, only a few hundred bases of sequence were known, so we've increased the knowledge of Neandertal DNA dramatically. We hope to have a paper on this published soon.

TR: What do you expect to learn from the Neandertal genome?

ME: We know something dramatic happened in modern man within the last 200,000 years, which is a long time after we split from the Neandertal genome. So we're trying to find the so-called "human genes," possibly the genes involved in the evolution of language, abstract thinking, and planning.

The chimp genome was recently sequenced, so scientists have been able to compare chimp and human DNA to try to figure out what makes us different--there are about 35 million bases pairs that are different. Chimps and humans diverged about five million years ago, while Neandertals split only half a million years ago. So you could say they are 10 times closer to us than chimps and therefore make a better comparison.

We believe we can use the Neandertal genome as a signpost for our own genome. Our approach is to look at the 35 million base pair differences between chimp and man. Then we ask a simple question: Is Neandertal like chimp or human on those sites?

TR: How far along are you? Any early results?

ME: We've sequenced about seven million bases so far. Based on analysis from the first million bases, Neandertals were like humans about 96 percent of the time [meaning: at the sites of the genome where modern humans and chimps differ, the Neandertal sequence was much more likely to resemble modern humans, while it was the same as the chimp only four percent of the time.]

The parts we're really interested in are the four percent where Neandertals are like chimps rather than humans. We hope those genes will be those that confer higher executive function. Genes for talking, cognition, or brain development would be most exciting. We imagine that as people find new genes they suspect are unique to humans and are involved in higher-order cognition, we'll be able to compare to them the Neandertal genome and see if they are different. ... ch=biotech
Neandertal Gene Study Reveals Early Split With Humans
Elizabeth Svoboda
for National Geographic News

October 26, 2006
A new genetic study bolsters theories of an early human-Neandertal split and is helping scientists pinpoint what makes humans unique.

Controversy has long swirled in the scientific community over how closely the hairy Eurasian hunters resembled modern humans, with some researchers even claiming Neandertals (often spelled Neanderthals) were actually members of our own species, Homo sapiens.

A new study by geneticist James Noonan at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, however, reveals that modern humans and Neandertals' most recent common ancestor probably perished about 400,000 years ago.

The research was presented earlier this month at the American Society of Human Genetics conference in New Orleans, Louisiana (get a genetics overview).

Richard Potts, director of the human origins program at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., called Noonan's work "highly significant."

"Each part of the Neandertal genome is an archive of the similarity and distinction [between Neandertals and] all people living today," he said. "Comparison to a lineage in our own family tree helps us understand which elements of the genetic code make us human."

Going Nuclear

To obtain the raw material for his study, Noonan extracted DNA from fossilized Neandertal bones.

Combing the samples for Neandertal-specific genetic sequences was a painstaking process bogged down by large amounts of contamination.

"Most of the DNA we got was bacterial DNA from organisms that had colonized the specimens," Noonan said. "We can pick out the ancient DNA sequences because they're shorter and more degraded."

After analyzing the genetic content of the sequences, Noonan and his colleagues began cataloging them in a library similar to that used to help organize the human genome.

Initial results indicate Neandertals have contributed surprisingly little to modern humans' genetic makeup.

Noonan's work represents a significant advance over earlier studies of Neandertal genetics, such as those conducted by William Goodwin of the University of Glasgow in Scotland. (Related: "Neandertals Not Our Ancestors, DNA Study Suggests" [May 14, 2003].)

That early work involved analysis of mitochondrial DNA, which tends to stay preserved longer than DNA found inside the nuclei of cells. But Noonan analyzed nuclear DNA, which holds a much greater wealth of information.

"Nuclear DNA is where all the biology is," Noonan said. "We want to understand how traits like language and cognition are encoded, and none of those traits can be found in mitochondrial DNA."

Race to the Finish

Like the multiple groups who worked simultaneously to sequence the human genome, Noonan faces competition from other inspired teams.

Genetic anthropologist Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, is working on a similar sequencing project using DNA from bone specimens belonging to a Neandertal who lived in Croatia about 45,000 years ago.

"A Neandertal genome sequence will provide a catalog of all changes that happened in the human genome after humans separated from Neandertals, so it will be a wonderful tool for scientists who want to find out what makes modern humans unique," Paabo said.

While Noonan's focus is on studying the sequences of Neandertal DNA he considers most significant—those he can compare to modern human DNA sequences—Paabo's goal is to sequence the entire Neandertal genome within two years.

Based on his results to date, Paabo expects to see some surprises as his project proceeds.

"Neandertal DNA is degraded in specific ways that we had not anticipated, and in some ways Neandertals actually look closer to humans than we had expected," he said.

The Natural History Museum's Potts hopes Noonan's and Paabo's investigations, in addition to fleshing out Neandertals' genetic profile, will lend insight into their day-to-day existence, including the challenges they faced that shaped specific genetic adaptations.

"The genetic analysis of Neandertals complements the study of fossils and the archaeological record of Neandertal behavior," he said.

"All this evidence allows us to understand exactly how Neandertals lived and adapted to a changing world that eventually included our species." ... thals.html
Did Modern Humans Get a Brain Gene from Neandertals?
By Michael Balter
ScienceNOW Daily News
6 November 2006

For decades, human evolution researchers have debated whether Neandertals and modern humans interbred. Most scientists have come down on the side that any romances between these hominid cousins must have been fleeting at best. But a new study suggests that a few of these passing dalliances might have had a major impact on the evolution of the Homo sapiens brain. If so, Neandertals, although long extinct, may have left humanity a lasting genetic gift.
Some anthropologists have argued that a handful of hominid skeletons show features of both Neandertals and modern humans (Science, 11 February 2005, p. 841). But so far sequencing of Neandertal ancient DNA has turned up no signs of such interbreeding (Science, 11 July 1997, p. 176). As a result, most researchers have considered the two species genetically separate.

Now, University of Chicago geneticist Bruce Lahn and his colleagues report evidence that at least one gene might have bridged the evolutionary divide. Lahn's team analyzed the origins of the gene microcephalin, thought to be involved in regulating brain growth. Last year, the team reported in Science that a particular variant of the gene, now present in 70% of the world's population, arose about 37,000 years ago and quickly spread around the globe. Apparently the variant, known as haplogroup D, was favored by natural selection, although no one is sure of its function (Science, 9 September 2005, p. 1662).

In the new study, published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Lahn and coworkers analyzed microcephalin genes from 89 people from around the world. They found that haplogroup D differed in so many bases from other versions of microcephalin that it must have arisen very early, probably a little more than 1 million years ago, according to statistical tests. Yet it appeared in modern humans only 37,000 years ago.

The Lahn group concluded that the most likely scenario was interbreeding between prehistoric modern humans and a now extinct hominid that carried haplogroup D--most likely Neandertals. The haplogroup was probably beneficial enough to spread quickly in modern human populations, says Lahn. But he's not sure what advantage it offered. Because most researchers agree that Neandertals were not as cognitively advanced as modern humans, Lahn and his coauthors suggest that the haplogroup might have made Homo sapiens better able to adapt to the Eurasian environments that Neandertals had occupied long before modern newcomers arrived.

Ancient DNA pioneer Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, says that this new work is "the most compelling case to date for a genetic contribution of Neandertals to modern humans." Indeed, Pääbo says, he will now search for the haplogroup D variant of microcephalin in his own studies of the Neandertal genome.

Related sites

ScienceNOW on interbreeding between humans and Neandertals ... 2005/518/2

Background on Neandertal DNA from the Smithsonian

Mitochondrial DNA from Neandertals ... 006/1106/1
Neanderthal DNA secrets unlocked
By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News

Neanderthals disappeared around 28,000 years ago (Copyright: Natural History Museum)
A genetic breakthrough could help clear up some long-standing mysteries surrounding our closest evolutionary relatives: the Neanderthals.

Scientists have reconstructed a chunk of DNA from the genome of a Neanderthal man who lived 38,000 years ago.

The genetic information they extracted from a thigh bone has allowed them to identify more than a million building blocks of Neanderthal DNA so far.

Details of the efforts appear in the journals Nature and Science.

"The sequence data will serve as a DNA time machine," said co-author Edward Rubin, from the Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, California, US.

Having a Neanderthal genome will also throw light on our own evolution

Prof Chris Stringer, Natural History Museum
"[It] will tell us about aspects of Neanderthal biology that we can never get from their bones and associated artefacts."

Studying the Neanderthal genome will shed light on the genetic changes that made our species what it is, after the evolutionary lineages of Neanderthals and modern humans diverged from one another.

It could also reveal what colour hair, eyes and skin Neanderthals had, whether they were capable of modern speech, shed light on aspects of their brain function and determine whether they contributed to the modern human gene pool.

'Technical triumph'

Researchers have already sequenced mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from 12 Neanderthals. This is DNA from the cell's powerhouses, and which is passed down from mother to child.

While mtDNA has confirmed that Neanderthals were indeed different from us, the information gleaned from it is limited.


The double-stranded DNA molecule is held together by chemical components called bases
Adenine (A) bonds with thymine (T); cytosine(C) bonds with guanine (G)
These "letters" form the "code of life"; there are 3.2 billion base-pairs in the Neanderthal genome
Written in the DNA are genes, which cells use as starting templates to make proteins; these sophisticated molecules build and maintain the body
To answer more detailed questions about our evolutionary cousins, scientists had to extract DNA that came from the cell's nucleus. This nuclear DNA encodes most of an organism's genetic blueprint.

Researchers used cutting-edge DNA sequencing techniques to retrieve genetic material from the Neanderthal femur found in the Vindija Cave, Croatia.

Writing in Nature journal, Professor Svante Paabo and colleagues describe how they recovered more than one million base-pairs - the building blocks of DNA - by directly reading the genetic sequence.

In another paper published in Science magazine, Professor Rubin's team used a different approach called metagenomics, in which the fragments of Neanderthal genetic material were incorporated into bacteria that were then copied themselves, generating a living "library" of DNA sequences.

This method resulted in the recovery of 65,250 base-pairs of Neanderthal DNA.

While direct sequencing allows scientists to recover more genetic material, it is a random process. The metagenomic approach should allow scientists to call up specific genetic sequences of interest from the DNA library in a targeted manner.

Language question

Professor Paabo told BBC science correspondent Pallab Ghosh that he planned to look at the form of the gene FOXP2 in Neanderthals; this gene is implicated in the development of language skills and has undergone evolution in modern humans since our divergence from chimpanzees.

"We have two little snippets of genes involved in skin and hair colour, but they don't give any hint of a special variant that would be of interest," Paabo told the BBC News website.

Our closest evolutionary relatives are still something of a mystery
The two teams basically agree, within their margins of error, that the evolutionary lineages of Neanderthals and modern humans split somewhere around 500,000 years ago. This fits with previous estimates from mtDNA and archaeological data.

Professor Paabo, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and his team also show that Neanderthals came from a very small ancestral population of about 3,000 individuals.

At their peak, Neanderthals dominated a wide range - stretching from Britain and Iberia in the west, to Israel in the south and Uzbekistan in the east. This stocky, muscular human species was our closest evolutionary relative.

Modern humans entered Europe about 40,000 years ago; and within 10,000 years, the Neanderthals had largely disappeared from the continent. By 24,000 years ago, the last survivors had vanished from their refuge in the Iberian Peninsula.

Extinct relative

The question of whether modern humans and Neanderthals mated when they encountered each other 40,000 years ago is highly controversial.

One US scientist recently suggested modern humans might have acquired a variant of the brain gene microcephalin through interbreeding with Neanderthals.

Edward Rubin's team found no evidence for a Neanderthal contribution to the modern gene pool, but Professor Paabo's analysis hints at a possible contribution in the other direction - from modern humans into Neanderthals.

The researchers say more extensive sequencing is needed to address this possibility.

Professor Chris Stringer, from London's Natural History Museum, said the results "confirm the distinctiveness of the Neanderthals, and support previous estimates of the divergence time.

"Research will now extend to complete the whole genome of a Neanderthal and to examine Neanderthal variation through time and space to compare with ours."

The researchers aim to produce a rough draft of the full Neanderthal genome sequence over the next two years.

[email protected].
Neandertal DNA Comes to Life
By Elizabeth Pennisi
ScienceNOW Daily News
15 November 2006

Two groups of researchers have done what many thought impossible: They have sequenced more than 1 million bases of nuclear DNA from a Neandertal fossil. The data, reported this week in Science and Nature, support the view that Neandertals diverged from our own ancestors at least 450,000 years ago. One group has fresh evidence that Neandertals and modern humans may have interbred.
The breakthrough owes a large debt to a burgeoning field known as paleometagenomics, as well as to faster sequencing technology. Until now, researchers have gleaned genetic information from ancient fossils by painstakingly purifying DNA from samples before sequencing it. This ensures that DNA from microbes and other contaminants does not pop up in the final sequence. But with paleometagenomics, researchers can feed DNA information from an unpurified sample into a computer and have the computer filter out foreign DNA.

Two years ago, Edward Rubin, head of the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, California, approached Svante Pääbo, a paleogeneticist at the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, about applying paleometagenomics to Neandertal DNA. Pääbo shared a sample from a 38,000-year-old Neandertal fossil with Rubin, and the two teams embarked on parallel but different analyses.

In Rubin's lab, postdoctoral fellow James Noonan first created a library of Neandertal DNA incorporated into live bacteria that reproduce the DNA, creating an endless supply. The team employed a new, massively parallel technique called pyrosequencing, which uses pulses of light to read the sequence of thousands of bases at once. Sophisticated computer programs then compared the sequence fragments to available DNA databases and identified potential Neandertal ones based on their similarity to modern human sequence.

Pääbo and his Leipzig colleague Ed Green also employed pyrosequencing and computers to pick out Neandertal DNA. But instead of using bacterial libraries, they coated tiny beads with Neandertal DNA fragments and amplified each fragment for sequencing.

As expected, the Neandertal and human genomes proved more than 99.5% identical. Rubin's team calculated that the most recent common ancestor of the two human species lived about 700,000 years ago, whereas Green's analysis of 1 million bases found a more recent divergence time, about 465,000 to 569,000 years ago. As to the question of interbreeding, Rubin's group found no sign of it, but Pääbo's group did. "Taken at face value, our data can be explained by gene flow from modern humans into Neandertals," most likely from modern humans fathering children with Neandertal females, says Pääbo.

For Neandertal genomics to come into its own, however, Pääbo, Rubin, and others must demonstrate that their sequences are real and not a mosaic of errors due to degradation that occurs as DNA ages, sequencing mistakes, or contamination from modern humans who have handled the fossils, says genomicist Stephan Schuster of Pennsylvania State University in State College. Nonetheless, "this is great stuff," says molecular evolutionist Alan Cooper of the University of Adelaide, Australia. "It opens the way for much more work on identifying uniquely human genetic changes."

Related sites

Full news story

The Science paper ... 006/1115/1

Cracking the Neanderthal code

Nov 16th 2006
From The Economist print edition

Two new studies show how to sequence the genome of an extinct species

RECREATING dinosaurs may be the stuff of science fiction—but scientists have for some years been able to extract information from the remains of species that no longer walk the Earth. Unfortunately this evidence is often in the form of tiny, jumbled snippets and it is frequently contaminated. Two new ways to patch the oddments together and distinguish genuine from false information are reported this week. Scientists intend to use the techniques to produce the complete genome of a creature that is not only extinct but also happens to be their closest relative.

When humans first emerged as a species they shared the planet with many types of ape. The fossilised remains of one such species were discovered in the Neander Valley in Germany some 150 years ago. Neanderthal man, as the species has come to be called, was shorter and stockier than humans. The evidence suggests that he was a cousin rather than an ancestor of humanity. Mitochondrial DNA extracted from the bones of Neanderthals does not resemble DNA from any known modern humans, so scientists have concluded that there was no interbreeding between the two, which is what distinguishes one species from another.

Nevertheless Neanderthal man is thought to be man's closest relative. If scientists could recreate his genome, the strings of billions of letters that spell out how to build and run a Neanderthal, they would be able to pinpoint the precise difference between the two species. Moreover, by comparing the two genomes, they could see what makes people human. Until now many researchers have argued that it would be impossible to sequence the entire genome of an extinct creature because the samples are so degraded. How could so many tiny fragments of DNA be pieced together? And how would it be possible to check whether the jigsaw pieces had been assembled correctly?

Never say never
Two teams of researchers appear to have solved these problems. The first, led by Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has managed to sequence more than 1m letters of Neanderthal DNA. It reports its results in this week's issue of Nature. Meanwhile in this week's issue of Science, a team led by Edward Rubin of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California reports that it has also recovered large tracts of Neanderthal DNA. Although in total the team has unearthed far fewer letters (some 65,000) than its competitors, its discoveries are significant because they focus on specific genes: that is, strings of DNA that are several thousand letters long.

The technology employed by Dr Pääbo and his colleagues is extraordinary because it is 100 times faster than previous techniques. The researchers used “pyrosequencing”, a process which breaks up the DNA into short chunks and then shakes them up in a mixture of water, a special silicone-based oil, a large quantity of tiny plastic balls and chemicals capable of duplicating DNA. This mix is then applied to a tiny chip with 1m wells in it. Get the conditions right and the result is that the wells each contain just one sort of DNA molecule. These can be analysed by a technique that uses fluorescence to read the sequences of the letters that compose the molecules. It is fast because many batches can be done at the same time and the whole process can be automated.

What is more, the method can make sense of the short fragments of DNA that are all that remain in the crumbling bones of a Neanderthal specimen. This was no mean feat: the team tested more than 70 bones and found just one, a thigh bone found in a cave in Vindija, Croatia, that was in good enough condition for the technique to succeed. To reassemble the resulting pieces of information into a coherent picture, Dr Pääbo and his colleagues compared their pieces with the human genome, which has been fully sequenced. By mapping stretches of Neanderthal DNA to its human equivalent, the researchers were able to complete bits of the jigsaw.

Dr Rubin and his colleagues used what is called a “metagenomic” approach. This has one great advantage: it can be used to target specific areas of interest. The researchers propagated individual DNA fragments in the traditional way, in bacteria, to create a gene library; they also developed a method for pulling out specific sequences from the library, providing an easy way to study any gene of interest. They found 29 Neanderthal sequences that are similar to those of humans and concluded that Neanderthals and humans are likely to be at least 99.5% identical, genetically speaking.

The work continues to sequence the entire Neanderthal genome and to check that the sequence is correct. As with the human genome, the race is between two teams using two different techniques: one method is rough-and-ready, the other slow-and-steady. Dr Pääbo says he will have a rough draft of the entire Neanderthal genome within two years, and that he has devised a way to make pyrosequencing ten times faster. The researchers propose to sequence the genome six times, allowing them to identify any mistakes. On its way to being fully decoded the human genome was sequenced, on average, ten times ... id=8166956
Mining Ancient Molars
By Ann Gibbons
ScienceNOW Daily News
22 November 2006

For the first time, researchers have been allowed to slice through Neandertal teeth. This coup is providing the best evidence yet that these creatures grew and developed at the same slow rate as modern children. Neandertals even had enough time to complete most of the development of their large brains in childhood, like modern humans.
Some paleoanthropologists have proposed that Neandertals grew up faster than modern humans so they could become fertile sooner. This would have helped ensure they would produce enough offspring to survive in the frigid climate of Europe 200,000 to 28,000 years ago, but it would have provided less time for brain development as children. In contrast, modern humans inhabited the warmer climes of Africa and western Asia until they swept into Europe 40,000 years ago. They may have lived longer as adults, enabling them to delay becoming parents so they could prolong their childhood and develop larger brains. A 2004 study supported this hypothesis by showing that Neandertals' front teeth grew faster than those of modern humans, indicating the species reached adulthood more rapidly (ScienceNOW, 28 April 2004).

A challenge came in 2005, after another team of researchers used the same method to count layers of enamel on the outside surface of Neandertal front teeth. But they also applied the method to modern humans from around the globe and found that the Neandertals' tooth development fit within the range for the diverse modern humans. Hence, both Neandertals and modern humans appeared to have similar childhood development patterns (ScienceNOW, 19 September 2005). Still, the study was limited because front teeth cannot provide detailed information about daily growth rates.

Molars, whose development is more complex, harbor this information. Like trees and shells, teeth grow in an incremental manner, preserving a record of their growth in the form of striated lines. In molars, these lines are laid down daily, and dramatic dark lines even reveal the stress of being born. Seeing these lines, however, involves slicing into the tooth--something curators of Neandertal specimens were loath to have researchers do.

Fortunately, a team of British and French researchers was able to get permission to do this thanks to a multidisciplinary effort involving curators at French museums where the molars are kept. When the researchers sliced thin sections of the molars, they noticed important similarities between Neandertals and modern humans. The dark birth line emerged at about the same time in dental development as in modern humans, indicating that Neandertal teeth developed at the same rate as modern human teeth do around the time of birth, the team reports online today in Nature. The researchers also found that the crowns and roots of the Neandertals grew at the same rate of those of modern humans, with root growth complete by age 9 as in modern children. "This all points to a dental developmental schedule that was most like that in modern humans," says anatomist and lead author Christopher Dean of University College London, who also is a dentist.

Paleoanthropologist Gary Schwartz of Arizona State University's Institute of Human Origins in Tempe says the findings will allow researchers to chart Neandertal development, "down to the level of a day." With this information, he says, scientists should be able to get a firmer handle on how Neandertals and modern humans came to differ from their ancestors late in human evolution. ... 006/1122/1
Web address: ... 123302.htm

Source: University of Chicago Press Journals
Date: December 5, 2006

Gendered Division Of Labor Gave Modern Humans Advantage Over Neanderthals

Diversified social roles for men, women, and children may have given Homo sapiens an advantage over Neanderthals, says a new study in the December 2006 issue of Current Anthropology. The study argues that division of economic labor by sex and age emerged relatively recently in human evolutionary history and facilitated the spread of modern humans throughout Eurasia.

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"The competitive advantage enjoyed by modern humans came not just from new weapons and devices but from the ways in which their economic lives were organized around the advantages of cooperation and complementary subsistence roles for men, women, and children," write Steven L. Kuhn and Mary C. Stiner (University of Arizona).

Kuhn and Stiner note that the rich archaeological record for Neanderthal diets provides little direct evidence for a reliance on subsistence foods, such as milling stones to grind nuts and seeds. Instead, Neanderthals depended on large game, a high-stakes resource, to fuel their massive body mass and high caloric intake. This lack of food diversity and the presence of healed fractures on Neanderthal skeletons--attesting to a rough-and-tumble lifestyle--suggest that female and juvenile Neanderthals participated actively in the hunt by serving as game drivers, beating bushes or cutting off escape routes.

The Middle Paleolithic Neanderthal record also lacks the artifacts commonly used to make weather-resistant clothing or artificial shelters, such as bone needles. Thus, it was the emergence of "female" roles -- subsistence and skill-intensive craft -- that allowed H. sapiens in ecologically diverse tropical and sub-tropical regions to take advantage of other foods and live at higher population densities.

"Earlier hominins pursued more narrowly focused economies, with women's activities more closely aligned with those of men with respect to schedule and ranging patterns," write the authors. "It is impossible to argue that [Neanderthal] females and juveniles were fulfilling the same roles--or even an equally diverse suite of economic roles--as females and juveniles in recent hunter-gatherer groups," they add.

While some degree of niche specialization between adult male and females is documented for many large-mammal species, recent humans are remarkable for cooperative economies that combine pervasive sharing and complementary roles for individuals of different ages and sexes.

Sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Current Anthropology is a transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. Communicating across the subfields, the journal features papers in a wide variety of areas, including social, cultural, and physical anthropology as well as ethnology and ethnohistory, archaeology and prehistory, folklore, and linguistics.

Kuhn, Steven L. and Mary C. Stiner, "What's a Mother to Do" The Division of Labor among Neanderthals and Modern Humans in Eurasia." Current Anthropology 47:6.
Hungry ancients 'turned cannibal'

Eight Neanderthal skeletons have been found at El Sidron since 2000
Starvation and cannibalism were part of everyday life for a population of Neanderthals living in northern Spain 43,000 years ago, a study suggests.
Bones and teeth from the underground cave system of El Sidron in Asturias bear the hallmarks of a tough struggle for survival, researchers say.

Analysis of teeth showed signs of starvation or malnutrition in childhood and human bones have cut marks on them.

Details appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Some bones appeared to have been dismembered and broken open, possibly to allow access to marrow and brains.

"Given the high level of developmental stress in the sample, some level of survival cannibalism would be reasonable," the scientists wrote in their research paper.

The team, led by Dr Antonio Rosas from the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, also found that the bones shared physical features with other European Neanderthals from the same period.

Some of the bones were cemented in sand and clay
Dr Rosas and colleagues found a north-south variation in Neanderthal jaw bones, suggesting that populations from southern parts of Europe had wider, flatter faces.

The findings may help shed light on the life and death of the Neanderthals, which became extinct about 10,000 years after the arrival of modern humans in Europe around 40,000 years ago.

Many experts believe they were not able to compete with the moderns for food and shelter.

Eight Neanderthal skeletons have been found at El Sidron since 2000.

Mrs Adam Smith

Dec 7th 2006
From The Economist print edition

Modern humanity's battle with Neanderthals may have been won by the women who invented the division of labour

NEANDERTHAL man was a strong, large-brained, skilful big-game hunter who had survived for more than 200,000 years in the harsh European climates of the last Ice Age. But within a few thousand years of the arrival of modern humans in the continent, he was extinct. Why that happened is a matter of abiding interest to anthropologically inclined descendants of those interloping moderns. The extinction of Neanderthal man has been attributed variously to his having lower intelligence than modern humans, to worse language skills, to cruder tools, or even to the lack of a propensity for long-distance trade. The latest proposal, though, is that it is not so much Neanderthal man that was to blame, as modern woman.

In existing pre-agricultural societies there is, famously, a division of food-acquiring labour between men, who hunt, and women, who gather. And in a paper just published in Current Anthropology, Steven Kuhn and Mary Stiner of the University of Arizona propose that this division of labour happened early in the species' history, and that it is what enabled modern humans to expand their population at the expense of Neanderthals.

As Adam Smith noted, division of labour leads to greater productivity because it allows people to specialise and become very good at what they do. In the vast majority of cases among historically known and present-day foragers, men specialise in hunting big game, while women hunt smaller animals and collect plant food. In colder climes, where long winters make plant-gathering difficult or impossible for much of the year, women often specialise in making clothing and shelters.

The archaeological record, however, shows few signs of any specialisation among the Neanderthals from their appearance about 250,000 years ago to their disappearance 30,000 years ago. Instead, they did one thing almost to the exclusion of all else: they hunted big game. There are plenty of collections of bones from animals such as reindeer, horses, bison and mammoths that are associated with Neanderthals, but few remains of rabbits or tortoises. There is also little sign of preserved seeds and nuts, or of the specialised grinding stones that would have been needed to process them. And there are no bone awls or needles that would suggest that Neanderthals were skilled leather workers, despite the abundance of animal skins that their hunting would have provided.

Signs of division of labour come only with the arrival of modern humans into Europe around 40,000 years ago. That is when evidence appears of small animals being eaten routinely and plant foods being gathered. It is also when tools designed for sophisticated leather working emerge.

Dr Kuhn and Dr Stiner suggest that division of labour actually originated in a warmer part of the world—Africa seems most likely—where plant foods could be gathered profitably all year round. But as humans brought the idea of division of labour north, the female side of the bargain gave the species a significant advantage by providing fallback foods when big game was scarce and allowing more people to inhabit a given piece of land in times of plenty. Modern human populations grew, Neanderthal populations shrank, and the rest is prehistory.

Of course, the archaeological record cannot prove which sex was doing what, or even if specialisation was determined by sex at all. But almost all known groups of foragers divide men's and women's work the same way, which makes it likely that the same rule applied in the past, and for the same reasons—men tend to be stronger and faster, and women are more likely to be occupied with childcare.

That it was division of labour which gave modern humanity its edge over the Neanderthals is not a completely new idea. A study published last year by Jason Shogren of the University of Wyoming used a mathematical model to suggest it would work, particularly if combined with trade. But Dr Shogren's thesis was that wimpy, useless hunters were the ones who stayed at home and crafted objects, while the real men went out and killed things. Dr Kuhn and Dr Stiner, by contrast, assign to women the main role in establishing the antecedents of modern economics, and thus launching the process of growth that continues to this day. ... id=8380326
New scan of 'Neanderthal' jawbone

The bone became known as "Kents Cavern 4". (Image: Torquay Museum)
A piece of jawbone found in a Devon cave is being re-examined by scientists who believe it may be Britain's first direct evidence of Neanderthal man.
The bone was excavated from Kents Cavern in Torquay in 1927 and was thought to be about 31,000 years old.

But more research showed the Torquay Museum piece could be 40,000 years old.

A computer scan is to be carried out to determine if the bone was put back together correctly after it was found, and to see if DNA can be extracted.

It hasn't been looked after as carefully as it could have been back in the 1930s

Nick Powe, Kents Cavern

The fragment of maxilla (upper jaw) containing three teeth was unearthed during an excavation by the Torquay Natural History Society.

Radiocarbon dating in the 1980s of Kents Cavern 4, as it became known, showed its age to be about 31,000 years old.

That age was placed in doubt after it was found the bone had been strengthened with paper glue, probably after it was excavated.

But more recent radiocarbon dates for animal bones in cave sediments where the jaw was found, indicate the layer it was in dates between 37,000 and 40,000 years ago.

Now a scan taking six hours will allow a three-dimensional computer model to be created.

'Distinct DNA'

This will be used to establish whether the jawbone and teeth were put back together correctly when first found and to see if DNA can be extracted.

Nick Powe from Kents Cavern said: "Neanderthal DNA is quite distinct, and if researchers can find enough DNA in a tooth they will be able to establish if it is Neanderthal.

"But it was found in 1927 and hasn't been looked after as carefully as it could have been back in the 1930s.

"The danger is that some of the processes that were used to reconstruct it for display purposes may have damaged it and DNA cannot be taken out of it."

If the jawbone is found to be Neanderthal, it would be evidence that Neanderthals spread across Europe and reached Britain far earlier than is currently thought. ... 171325.stm
HYMS researchers focus on human evolution

A Hull York Medical School (HYMS) researcher has played a key role in a study which has cast important new light on Neanderthals.

Dr Markus Bastir was part of an Anglo-Spanish team which studied 43,000-year-old Neanderthal remains at El Sidrón in Spain, revealing significant physical differences between those from northern and southern Europe.

Dr Bastir, who was based in the functional morphology and evolution research unit of HYMS (fme) for the last two years, analysed the mandibles of Neanderthals discovered at El Sidrón. The analysis revealed north–south variations, with southern European Neanderthals showing broader faces with increased lower facial heights. The research findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

It comes as the University of Hull's Centre for Medical Engineering and Technology (CMET), in which the fme is a partner, carried out detailed imaging of part of the upper jaw of what could be Britain's most substantial Neanderthal fossil discovered at Kent's Cavern in Torbay in 1926. The imaging using CMET's micro Computerised Tomography facilities was carried out on behalf of the Natural History Museum's Ancient Occupation of Britain project supported by the Leverhulme Trust.

Dr Bastir first studied the facial evolution of Neanderthals while at the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid. Later in the fme at HYMS, he analysed the mandibles of the El Sidrón remains, under the supervision of Professor Paul O'Higgins, using 3D geometric morphometric software and imaging facilities.

"This revealed an astonishing North-South morphological gradient and gives us an idea of typically Southern-European Neanderthal facial shape," Dr Bastir said.

Professor O'Higgins said the two studies helped to demonstrate the growing importance of the HYMS functional morphology and evolution Unit, which has been established with more than £3million funding support from the Leverhulme Trust, the European Union, the Australian Research Council, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

"At York we have developed an exciting collaboration with colleagues from the Department of Archaeology to form PALAEO -- the Centre for Human Palaeoecology and Evolutionary Origins, while at Hull we have formed a partnership with colleagues in Engineering and Computer Science in establishing the Centre for Medical Engineering and Technology," he added.

"Through the grant support we have raised we have been able to pick the best students and post doctoral fellows from Europe and more widely bringing them to Hull and York to work on leading edge issues in our field."

Source: University of York
Freeze 'condemned Neanderthals'

Small pockets of Neanderthals clung on in the south (Image: Gibraltar Museum)
A sharp freeze could have dealt the killer blow that finished off our evolutionary cousins the Neanderthals, according to a new study.
The ancient humans are thought to have died out in most parts of Europe by about 35,000 years ago.

And now new data from their last known refuge in southern Iberia indicates the final population was probably beaten by a cold spell some 24,000 years ago.

The research is reported by experts from the Gibraltar Museum and Spain.

They say a climate downturn may have caused a drought, placing pressure on the last surviving Neanderthals by reducing their supplies of fresh water and killing off the animals they hunted.

Sediment cores drilled from the sea bed near the Balearic Islands show the average sea-surface temperature plunged to 8C (46F). Modern-day sea surface temperatures in the same region vary from 14C (57F) to 20C (68F).

In addition, increased amounts of sand were deposited in the sea and the amount of river water running into the sea also plummeted.

Southern refuge

Neanderthals appear in the fossil record about 350,000 years ago and, at their peak, these squat, physically powerful hunters dominated a wide range, spanning Britain and Iberia in the west to Israel in the south and Uzbekistan in the east.

Our own species, Homo sapiens, evolved in Africa, and displaced the Neanderthals after entering Europe about 40,000 years ago.

Neanderthals held on at sites like Carihuela (Image: S Fernandez Jimenez/J Carrion)
During the last Ice Age, the Iberian Peninsula was a refuge where Neanderthals lived on for several thousand years after they had died out elsewhere in Europe.

These creatures (Homo neanderthalensis) had survived in local pockets during previous Ice Ages, bouncing back when conditions improved. But the last one appears to have been characterised by several rapid and severe changes in climate which hit a peak 30,000 years ago.

Southern Iberia appears to have been sheltered from the worst of these. But about 24,000 years ago, conditions did deteriorate there.

This event was the most severe the region had seen for 250,000 years, report Clive Finlayson, from the Gibraltar Museum; Francisco Jimenez-Espejo, from the University of Granada, Spain; and colleagues.

Their findings are published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.

Rare event

"It looks pretty severe and also quite short," Professor Finlayson told BBC News.

"Things like olive trees and oak trees that are still with us today managed to ride it out. But a very fragmented, stressed population of Neanderthals - and perhaps other elements of the fauna - did not."

The cause of this chill may have been cyclical changes in the Earth's position relative to the Sun - so-called Milankovitch cycles.

How Gibraltar might have looked in Neanderthal times

More details

But a rare combination of freezing polar air blowing down the Rhone valley and Saharan air blowing north seems to have helped cool this part of the Mediterranean Sea, contributing to the severe conditions.

Gorham's Cave on Gibraltar shows evidence of occupation by groups of Neanderthals until 24,000 years ago. But thereafter, researchers have found no signs of their presence.

However, in an interesting new development, scientists are also now reporting another site, from south-east Spain, which has yielded evidence for the late survival of Neanderthals.

In a study published in the journal Geobios, Jose Carrion, from the University of Murcia, Spain, and colleagues analysed pollen from soil layers at Carihuela cave to determine how vegetation had changed in the area during the past 15,000 years.

During the course of this work, they also obtained ages for sediment samples from the cave, using radiocarbon dating and uranium-thorium dating.

Sediment layers containing Neanderthal tools were found to date from 45,000 years ago until 21,000 years ago.

Caution needed

These radiocarbon dates are "raw", and do not exactly correspond to calendar dates. They cannot therefore be compared directly with those from Gibraltar, which have been calibrated with calendar dates.

Neanderthal bones have also been excavated from these sediment units, including a male skull fragment which could potentially be very recent. But Professor Carrion is extremely reluctant to draw firm conclusions about these human remains based on the evidence so far.

Pollen records the environment in which Neanderthals lived (Image: S Fernandez Jimenez/J Carrion)
Spanish archaeologists carried out a detailed excavation of Carihuela between 1979 and 1992. But the cave is currently closed due to a dispute between national and regional governments over rights to dig at the cave.

"The human bones have been recovered in different excavation campaigns over 50 years. The relationship between them and the dates I provide must be treated with caution," Professor Carrion told BBC News.

He added that sediments in parts of the cave could have been churned up, mixing old bones in with younger material. He suggested Carihuela should be re-excavated to resolve some of the controversies surrounding the site.

Clive Finlayson suggested the late Neanderthal dates from Carihuela might agree well with those from Gibraltar after they were calibrated.
'Neanderthal tools' found at dig

Christine McGourty

BBC science correspondent

Dozens of tools thought to have belonged to Neanderthals have been dug up at an archaeological site called Beedings in West Sussex.

Dr Matthew Pope, of University College London, said the discovery provided new insights into the life of a thriving community of hunters at the site.

The tools could have been used to hunt horses, mammoth and woolly rhinoceros.

The archaeologists, funded by English Heritage, have been carrying out their investigations over the last few weeks.

It is the first modern scientific investigation of the site since it was discovered in 1900.

"It's exciting to think that there's a real possibility these were left by some of the last Neanderthal hunting groups to occupy northern Europe," said Dr Pope.

"The impression they give is of a population in complete command of both landscape and natural raw materials with a flourishing technology - not a people on the edge of extinction."

Some 2,300 stone tools were first uncovered at the start of the 20th Century when the foundations were being dug for a huge new house to be built at Beedings.

But for many years, the tools were considered to be fakes. All but a few hundred of them were thrown down a well and never seen again.

The tools were only recently recognised to be of international importance, following research by Roger Jacobi of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project.

Dr Matthew Pope says flint tools were used in very sophisticated ways

He demonstrated last year that the Beedings material showed strong resemblances to other tools from northern Europe dating to between 35,000 and 42,000 years ago.

The latest finds now provided definitive proof that the original discovery was genuine, according to Dr Pope.

"There were some questions about the validity of the earlier find, but our excavations have proved beyond doubt that the material discovered here was genuine and originated from fissures within the local sandstone."

He said Neanderthal hunters were drawn to the hill over a long period of time, presumably for excellent views of the game herds grazing on the surrounding plains.

His team now hopes to look for more sites with similar systems of fissures across other parts of south-east England.

Barney Sloane, head of Historic Environment Commissions at English Heritage, said such sites were a rare and valuable archaeological resource.

"Their remains sit at a key watershed in the evolutionary history of northern Europe. The tools at Beedings could equally be the signature of pioneer populations of modern humans, or traces of the last Neanderthal hunting groups to occupy the region.

"This study offers a rare chance to answer some crucial questions about just how technologically advanced Neanderthals were, and how they compare with our own species."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/06/23 02:30:46 GMT

Who are you calling stupid? Looks as if the Neanderthals (or Neandertals) were the sharpest knives in drawers after all.

New evidence debunks 'stupid' Neanderthal myth

Research by UK and American scientists has struck another blow to the theory that Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) became extinct because they were less intelligent than our ancestors (Homo sapiens). The research team has shown that early stone tool technologies developed by our species, Homo sapiens, were no more efficient than those used by Neanderthals. Published today (26 August) in the Journal of Human Evolution, their discovery debunks a textbook belief held by archaeologists for more than 60 years.

The team from the University of Exeter, Southern Methodist University, Texas State University, and the Think Computer Corporation, spent three years flintknapping (producing stone tools). They recreated stone tools known as 'flakes,' which were wider tools originally used by both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, and 'blades,' a narrower stone tool later adopted by Homo sapiens. Archaeologists often use the development of stone blades and their assumed efficiency as proof of Homo sapiens' superior intellect. To test this, the team analysed the data to compare the number of tools produced, how much cutting-edge was created, the efficiency in consuming raw material and how long tools lasted.

Blades were first produced by Homo sapiens during their colonization of Europe from Africa approximately 40,000 years ago. This has traditionally been thought to be a dramatic technological advance, helping Homo sapiens out-compete, and eventually eradicate, their Stone Age cousins. Yet when the research team analysed their data there was no statistical difference between the efficiency of the two technologies. In fact, their findings showed that in some respects the flakes favoured by Neanderthals were more efficient than the blades adopted by Homo sapiens.

The Neanderthals, believed to be a different species from Homo sapiens, evolved in Ice Age Europe, while the latter evolved in Africa before spreading out to the rest of the world around 50-40,000 years ago. Neanderthals are thought to have died out around 28,000 years ago, suggesting at least 10,000 years of overlap and possible interaction between the two species in Europe.

Many long-held beliefs suggesting why the Neanderthals went extinct have been debunked in recent years. Research has already shown that Neanderthals were as good at hunting as Homo sapiens and had no clear disadvantage in their ability to communicate. Now, these latest findings add to the growing evidence that Neanderthals were no less intelligent than our ancestors.

Metin Eren, an MA Experimental Archaeology student at the University of Exeter and lead author on the paper comments: "Our research disputes a major pillar holding up the long-held assumption that Homo sapiens were more advanced than Neanderthals. It is time for archaeologists to start searching for other reasons why Neanderthals became extinct while our ancestors survived. Technologically speaking, there is no clear advantage of one tool over the other. When we think of Neanderthals, we need to stop thinking in terms of 'stupid' or 'less advanced' and more in terms of 'different.'"

Now that it is established that there is no technical advantage to blades, why did Homo sapiens adopt this technology during their colonization of Europe? The researchers suggest that the reason for this shift may be more cultural or symbolic. Eren explains: "Colonizing a continent isn't easy. Colonizing a continent during the Ice Age is even harder. So, for early Homo sapiens colonizing Ice Age Europe, a new shared and flashy-looking technology might serve as one form of social glue by which larger social networks were bonded. Thus, during hard times and resource droughts these larger social networks might act like a type of 'life insurance,' ensuring exchange and trade among members on the same 'team.'"

The University of Exeter is the only university in the world to offer a degree course in Experimental Archaeology. This strand of archaeology focuses on understanding how people lived in the past by recreating their activities and replicating their technologies. Eren says: "It was only by spending three years in the lab learning how to physically make these tools that we were able to finally replicate them accurately enough to come up with our findings."

Citation: Are Upper Paleolithic blade cores more productive than Middle Paleolithic discoidal cores? A replication experiment is published by Elsevier, in the Journal of Human Evolution. Authors: Metin I. Eren, Aaron Greenspan, C. Garth Sampson.

Source: University of Exeter
Some more on the subject from New Scientist. Full text of article at link.

Tech-savvy Neanderthals couldn't blame their tools
16:24 26 August 2008 news service
Ewen Callaway

Neanderthal stock is on the rise. A slew of recent studies have argued that the not-quite modern humans hunted, painted and communicated like their Homo sapiens cousins. Now new research suggests that Neanderthal technology was at least as good as that of early humans.

For most of the Stone Age, Homo sapiens and neanderthalensis both made disc-shaped stone tools called "flakes," says Metin Eren, an experimental archaeologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. But around 40,000 years ago humans in Europe began exclusively producing rectangular blades.

Some researchers have argued that this technological leap gave modern humans a decided advantage over Neanderthals, who went extinct in Europe around 28,000 years ago. They claimed that humans produced and wielded blade tools more efficiently than disc flakes.

"I put this to the test, I created thousands of tools," Eren says. He and his colleagues focused on the process of creating the tools, not just the final product.

Tough tools
Disc flakes, Eren's team discovered, waste less rock, suffer fewer breaks and have more cutting edge for their mass compared with straight blades.

"We found that with every respect the Neanderthal technology was just as efficient, if not slightly more efficient, than modern Homo sapiens blade technology," he says. "This was a very strong indication that Neanderthals did not go extinct because of any cognitive inferiority."

Rather, Eren argues, modern human blade technology may have been more useful for making spears or projectiles. Additionally, blades may have functioned as cultural glue that enforced similarities among bands of humans and distinguished them from nearby Neanderthals. ... tools.html
Stan Gooch's book is reviewed in the current FT and promises all sorts of revelations - Neanderthals as matriarchal, moon-worshipping mystics....but it looks like a load of hooey, unless he's got an awful lot to back it up with.

Anyone else know anything about this?
matriarchal, moon-worshipping mystics sounds rather good although I do wonder how the hell they would prove it

IMO we could always do with more matriarchal, moon-worshipping mystics
Did we out-breed slow-maturing Neanderthals?
22:00 08 September 2008 news service
Debora MacKenzie


Neanderthal women had just as much trouble in childbirth as modern women – and their kids took just as long to grow up.

Christoph Zollikofer and colleagues at the University of Zürich, Switzerland, have done the first three-dimensional reconstructions of the skulls of a newborn Neanderthal from Russia, and two toddlers from Syria. They found that the newborn's cranium was the same diameter as a modern human's.

Neanderthal mothers had slightly larger birth canals, but the prominent face of Neanderthal babies made it just as hard to push out as a modern human.

This suggests that both groups had the social structures needed to help with childbirth. It also means, says Zollikofer, that a big brain at birth must have evolved in some still-undiscovered common ancestor of modern humans and Neanderthals.

Moreover, conflicting estimates of Neanderthal growth rates based on teeth had led to disagreements about whether they grew up faster than us, amid theories that a prolonged childhood allowed us to develop greater intelligence.

Better brains?
The new skull reconstructions show that Neanderthal babies grew 5 to 10% faster than modern humans. But since Neanderthals also had bigger bodies, they took about the same time to reach adulthood that we do, says Zollikofer.

"The big question is, what happened to humans 50,000 years ago," he says. Early modern humans and Neanderthals now appear to have had similarly big brains at birth, that grew at similar rates. But the brains of today's babies are smaller than both of them. "Are they more efficiently organised? Or did we trade a bit of intelligence for smaller, cheaper brains that meant we could reproduce faster," he says.

If so, Zollikofer speculates, we may have succeeded the Neanderthals not because we were smarter, but because we bred faster – more like rabbits.

Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0803917105)

Human Evolution - Follow the incredible story in our comprehensive special report. ... -evolution
Neanderthals 'enjoyed broad menu'
By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News

It seems Neanderthals enjoyed a wide range of foods - a much broader menu than had previously been supposed.

Excavations in caves in Gibraltar once occupied by the ancient humans show they ate seal and dolphin when they could get hold of the animals.

There are even indications that mussels were warmed to open their shells.

The findings, reported in the journal PNAS, give the lie to the popular view that Neanderthals ate a diet utterly dominated by meat from land animals.

This is yet another difference that had been proposed between Neanderthals and moderns which now disappears
Prof Chris Stringer
Natural History Museum, London

It is one more example of the greater sophistication now being ascribed to Homo neanderthalensis ; and further complicates the story of how modern humans ( Homo sapiens ) out-competed and out-lived their evolutionary cousins.
"Moderns still had a more efficient way of extracting the maximum out of the environment compared with the Neanderthals," said lead author Chris Stringer from London's Natural History Museum.

"So there still is an element of superiority, but it is a much more finely balanced one now. This is yet another difference that had been proposed between Neanderthals and moderns which now disappears," he told BBC News.

Bone product

Professor Stringer and colleagues have been investigating the fossil material from a number of seaside excavation sites in Vanguard and Gorham's Caves in eastern Gibraltar.

The cave deposits are throwing up a rich array of Neanderthal artefacts, demonstrating that Homo sapiens were not the only ones to live off the sea.

It has been known from earlier work that Neanderthals would eat some shellfish when available, but the Gibraltar study is the first to show the exploitation of marine mammals.

"We've got a shoulder blade of a seal with cut marks on it and we've got parts of the bones from a flipper with cut marks," explained Professor Stringer.

"These Neanderthals were skinning and dismembering seals. What's interesting is that they didn't always cook them; they often ate them raw, it seems.

"They were also heating bones, not to cook the meat but to get at the marrow inside. By putting bones in fires, they were making them more brittle so they could get them open more easily."

On the menu also was dolphin ( Tursiops truncatus ), probably dead animals that had washed up on the beach. Monk seals ( Monachus monachus ), on the other hand, were most likely juveniles clubbed to death at breeding grounds and then taken back to the caves to be butchered.

By analysing the different types, or isotopes, of atoms incorporated into Neanderthal bones as a result of the foods they ate, it is possible to glimpse something of their lifestyle.

In northern Europe, particularly, it is clear that big game meat - mammoth, deer, horse - dominated the Neanderthal menu.

The isotopes from early modern humans, by comparison, show a much broader range of foods - they were eating small grain, they were fowling and fishing.

This has been used to help explain Neanderthal extinction: H. neanderthalensis may have struggled at times to get the most out of their environment and could be out-competed by moderns.

The latest research, by demonstrating the exploitation of seal and dolphin, shows the extinction story is a little more complicated - at least as far as Gibraltar is concerned, believes Professor Stringer.

"We can't generalise to all Neanderthal populations, because the further north you go, away from the coast, you won't have those resources," he told BBC News.

The Gibraltar caves also contain hearths and flint stone tools, as well as butchered land mammals such as ibex ( Capra ibex ), red deer ( Cervus elaphus ), wild boar ( Sus scrofa ), bear ( Ursus arctos ) and rabbit ( Oryctolagus cuniculus ).

The remains of mussels ( Mytilus galloprovincialis ) are also evident. These are found in ash and are scorched - clear evidence that they were cooked near a fire to open them.

The caves in Gibraltar may be among the very last places Neanderthals lived before they became extinct.

Analysis of charcoal remains from the hearths indicates the species was present 28,000 years ago, and perhaps as recently as 24,000 years ago.

The excavation of the caves is a collaborative project between several institutes, including London's NHM, Gibraltar Museum, and the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid.

Story from BBC NEWS: ... 630042.stm
Images and full text at link.

Last of the Neanderthals Eurasia was theirs alone for 200,000 years. Then the newcomers arrived.

By Stephen S. Hall

In March of 1994 some spelunkers exploring an extensive cave system in northern Spain poked their lights into a small side gallery and noticed two human mandibles jutting out of the sandy soil. The cave, called El Sidrón, lay in the midst of a remote upland forest of chestnut and oak trees in the province of Asturias, just south of the Bay of Biscay. Suspecting that the jawbones might date back as far as the Spanish Civil War, when Republican partisans used El Sidrón to hide from Franco's soldiers, the cavers immediately notified the local Guardia Civil.

But when police investigators inspected the gallery, they discovered the remains of a much larger—and, it would turn out, much older—tragedy.

Within days, law enforcement officials had shoveled out some 140 bones, and a local judge ordered the remains sent to the national forensic pathology institute in Madrid. By the time scientists finished their analysis (it took the better part of six years), Spain had its earliest cold case. The bones from El Sidrón were not Republican soldiers, but the fossilized remains of a group of Neanderthals who lived, and perhaps died violently, approximately 43,000 years ago. The locale places them at one of the most important geographical intersections of prehistory, and the date puts them squarely at the center of one of the most enduring mysteries in all of human evolution.

The Neanderthals, our closest prehistoric relatives, dominated Eurasia for the better part of 200,000 years. During that time, they poked their famously large and protruding noses into every corner of Europe, and beyond—south along the Mediterranean from the Strait of Gibraltar to Greece and Iraq, north to Russia, as far west as Britain, and almost to Mongolia in the east. Scientists estimate that even at the height of the Neanderthal occupation of western Europe, their total number probably never exceeded 15,000. Yet they managed to endure, even when a cooling climate turned much of their territory into something like northern Scandinavia today—a frigid, barren tundra, its bleak horizon broken by a few scraggly trees and just enough lichen to keep the reindeer happy.

By the time of the tragedy at El Sidrón, however, the Neanderthals were on the run, seemingly pinned down in Iberia, pockets of central Europe, and along the southern Mediterranean by a deteriorating climate, and further squeezed by the westward spread of anatomically modern humans as they emerged from Africa into the Middle East and beyond. Within another 15,000 years or so, the Neanderthals were gone forever, leaving behind a few bones and a lot of questions. Were they a clever and perseverant breed of survivors, much like us, or a cognitively challenged dead end? What happened during that period, roughly 45,000 to 30,000 years ago, when the Neanderthals shared some parts of the Eurasian landscape with those modern human migrants from Africa? Why did one kind of human being survive, and the other disappear?
Why did Neanderthals have such big noses?
by Ewen Callaway

The Neanderthal nose has been a matter of befuddlement for anthropologists, who point out that modern cold-adapted humans have narrow noses to moisten and warm air as it enters the lung, and reduce water and heat loss during exhalation.

Big noses tend to be found in people whose ancestors evolved in tropical climates, where a large nasal opening helps cool the body.

But Neanderthals go against this trend, says Tim Weaver, a palaeoanthropologist at the University of California, Davis, who was not involved in the study.

"They were living in the glacial environment of Europe, colder than it is today, for most of the time," he says. "So it's sort of been an anomaly. Why do they have these wide nasal apertures?"

Jaw link?
The traditional answer has been that Neanderthals have a big nose because they have a big mouth and a wide jaw, useful for ripping apart tough food, says Nathan Holton, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Iowa.

"People have tried to explain the Neanderthal face as designed to produce high levels of bite force and trying to explain the rest of a wide nasal breath as part of a larger tend," he says.

To put this theory to the test, he and University of Iowa colleague Robert Franciscus, measured facial dimensions in dozens of Neanderthals and humans, ancient and modern.

By correlating changes in the size of nose width, the distance between canine teeth, and other features, the researchers could determine whether or not big mouths went with big noses.

Holton and Franciscus found a slight link between nose and mouth, but not enough to explain Neanderthal noses. However, another measurement – the degree to which the face juts forward – seemed a better match for nose width, Houlton says.

Chance changes
"If you want to change the breadth of the nose, you change the degree of facial projection," he says.

Measurements in modern humans support this theory. By age 12, a child's mouth has grown to its adult size, whereas the nose and facial projection continue to grow well into teenage years, Holton says. Recent research suggests that Neanderthals matured at the same rate as humans.

Fortunately for Neanderthals, their inner noses were narrower than the openings suggest, and therefore well adapted to bone-chilling winters.

Why, then, do Neanderthals have faces that jut further out than humans? "They had them because earlier hominids had them," Houlton says.

He laments the tendency of some anthropologists to "atomise the body", and explain each of its part as an exquisite adaptation to an environment. Selection for strong jaws and teeth has been a favourite explanation for other Neanderthal facial features, as well as nose size.

"There's no real good evidence to say that Neanderthals are producing these high levels of bite force to begin with," he says.

Weaver agrees. "A lot of these anatomical differences are probably more likely due to these chance changes," he says.

Journal reference: Journal of Human Evolution (DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2008.07.001)

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Late Neanderthals and modern human contact in southeastern Iberia

( -- It is widely accepted that Upper Paleolithic early modern humans spread westward across Europe about 42,000 years ago, displacing and absorbing Neanderthal populations in the process. However, Middle Paleolithic assemblages persisted for another 8,000 years in Iberia, presumably made by Neanderthals. It has been unclear whether these late Middle Paleolithic Iberian assemblages were made by Neanderthals, and what the nature of those humans might have been.

New research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is now shedding some light on what were probably the last Neanderthals.

The research is based on a study of human fossils found during the past decade at the Sima de la Palomas, Murcia, Spain by Michael Walker, professor at Universidad de Murcia, and colleagues, and published by Michael Walker, João Zilhão and Alistair Pike, from the University of Bristol, and colleagues.

The human fossils from the upper levels of the Sima de las Palomas are anatomically clearly Neanderthals, and they are now securely dated to 40,000 years ago. They therefore establish the late persistence of Neanderthals in this southwestern cul-de-sac of Europe. This reinforces the conclusion that the Neanderthals were not merely swept away by advancing modern humans. The behavioral differences between these human groups must have been more subtle than the Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic technological contrasts might imply.

In addition, the Palomas Neanderthals variably exhibit a series of modern human features rare or absent in earlier Neanderthals. Either they were evolving on their own towards the modern human pattern, or more likely, they had contact with early modern humans around the Pyrenees. If the latter, it implies that the persistence of the Middle Paleolithic in Iberia was a matter of choice, and not cultural retardation.

From the Sima de las Palomas, other late Neanderthal sites, and recent discoveries of the earliest modern humans across Europe, a complex picture is emerging of shifting contact between behaviorally similar, if culturally and biologically different, human populations. We are coming to see them all more as people, flexibly making a living through the changing human and natural landscapes of the Late Pleistocene.

Paper: Late Neanderthals in Southeastern Iberia: Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo, Murcia, Spain Michael J. Walker, Josep Gibert, Mariano V. López, A. Vincent Lombardi, Alejandro Pérez-Pérez, Josefina Zapata, Jon Ortega, Thomas Higham, Alistair Pike, Jean-Luc Schwenninger, João Zilhão, Erik Trinkaus PNAS (
Biodiversity Hotspot Enabled Neanderthals To Survive Longer In South East Of Spain ... 140046.htm

Present day landscapes of Gibraltar (above) and reconstructed landscapes of Gibraltar from 30,000 years ago (below). (Credit: Museum of Gibraltar)

ScienceDaily (Feb. 2, 2009) — Over 14,000 years ago during the last Pleistocene Ice Age, when a large part of the European continent was covered in ice and snow, Neanderthals in the region of Gibraltar in the south of the Iberian peninsula were able to survive because of the refugium of plant and animal biodiversity. Today, plant fossil remains discovered in Gorham's Cave confirm this unique diversity and wealth of resources available in this area of the planet.

The international team jointly led by Spanish researchers has reconstructed the landscape near Gorham's Cave in Gibraltar, by means of paleobotanical data (plant fossil records) located in the geological deposits investigated between 1997 and 2004. The study, which is published in the Quaternary Science Reviews, also re-examines previous findings relating to the glacial refugia for trees during the ice age in the Iberian Peninsula.

"The reconstructed landscape shows a wide diversity of plant formations in the extreme south of the Iberian peninsula from 32,000 to 10,000 years ago," José S. Carrión explains. He is the principal author and researcher from the University of Murcia. The most significant finding amongst the steppe landscape, pine trees, holm oaks, oak trees, deciduous trees, and others, is the presence of "plant elements indicative of a warm environment," states Carrión.

This research shows that the plant diversity discovered in the cave is "unique" in the context of the ice age that affected the entire European continent. The area of Gibraltar and the adjacent mountain ranges made up a "large refugium for plant and animal biodiversity during the coldest periods of the Pleistocene Ice Age" and made it possible for the Neanderthals to survive for 10,000 years longer than the rest of Europe.

The researchers suggest that the caves situated between the coasts of Malaga and Gibraltar "represent an area that favours the survival of a large diversity of environments." The analysis of the refugia in the Peninsula shows that there were many other places where trees provided a refugium, "but this never compared to the diversity of species in the south, south west and south east," emphasizes Carrión.

In search of comfort

In Gibraltar, the Neanderthals could have had access to more than 140 caves, which provided them with a wealth of resources. The research mentions a corridor along the coasts of the south east of Spain that the Neanderthals possibly used in order to avoid the steep terrain found in the interior mountain ranges which had inhospitable climatic conditions during this Quaternary Period.

The existence of this biodiversity hotspot with a supply of plant and animal foodstuffs available "would explain the extraordinary endurance of the Neanderthals in the south west of Europe," emphasizes the researcher. On the other hand, the Neanderthals in the south of Europe had become adapted to surroundings that had semi forest vegetation, as well as fishing resources off the coast, which encouraged their survival.

The inhabitants of Gorham's Cave were omnivorous and ate land mammals (mountain goats, rabbits, quails, duck and pigeon) and marine foods (monk seals, dolphin, fish and mussels). They also ate plants and dried fruits such as those found in the cave that date from 40,000 years ago. They adapted easily to their environment and took advantage of what this provided.

The paleobotanical data collected by the researchers from the Museum of Gibraltar, the Catalonian Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution, the Laboratory of Archaeobotany (CSIC), the University of Wales (United Kingdom), the University of York (United Kingdom), Pyrenean Institute of Ecology (CSIS) and the University of Murcia, were obtained by studying carbon remains and fossilised pollen grains found in the packed sediment in the cave and in coprolites (fossilised faeces of animals) from hyenas and canids (wolves, jackals, foxes, etc).


Journal reference:

Carrión et al. A coastal reservoir of biodiversity for Upper Pleistocene human populations: palaeoecological investigations in Gorham's Cave (Gibraltar) in the context of the Iberian Peninsula. Quaternary Science Reviews, 2008; 27 (23-24): 2118 DOI: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2008.08.016
Composer's Neanderthal recreation

Neanderthals may even have been there at the origins of music
A musical experience with a difference is being previewed at the National Museum Wales in Cardiff - an attempt to recreate the sound of the Neanderthals.

Jazz composer Simon Thorne was given the task of creating the "soundscape" to provide a musical backdrop to some of the ancient exhibits on display.

The musician says the work is "probably the most unusual" he has undertaken.

There has been strong interest in the composition and it will go on a separate live tour later in the year.

Neanderthal man existed side by side with early homo sapiens before becoming extinct some 30,000 years ago.

Despite having a reputation for lacking intelligence, recent research suggests the neanderthals were a lot more resourceful and innovative than was first thought.

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Thorne said: "Given that Neanderthal's man brain was about the same size as ours, and much of our brain is given over to language, then you can assume they probably had language too.

"Every culture has language and music, so we can probably assume that they had some kind of music too."

His 75-minute composition was commissioned by National Museum Wales to provide a musical illustration for the palaeolithic section of its exhibition Origins of Early Wales.
These Neanderthal exhibits have helped inspire Simon Thorne's work

The exhibition includes artefacts like a Neanderthal hand axe and teeth found at Pontnewydd in Denbighshire and, as part of his research, Cardiff-based Mr Thorne visited the cave where they were found.

He said he was the first to admit that knowing exactly what Neanderthal music would have sounded like is impossible.

"It's a ridiculous notion to suggest we could ever know the precise role that music played in the lives of the Neanderthals, but imagining it has been a fascinating experience."

The composer has also researched the era extensively and been inspired by two books - Prof Steven Mithen's The Singing Neanderthals and David Lewis Williams's The Mind in the Cave.

Prof Mithen will be at the museum launch and, in conversation with Mr Thorne, will talk about the role music may have played in the lives of the Neanderthals.

The Reading University academic, whose research centres on the evolution of human language and musical ability, said Thorne's work was "a fantastic go at evoking the sense of prehistory of our human ancestry".

He added: "He is trying to create the whole sense of being there at that time."

Instinctively creative

As well as the music, a specially commissioned film will help transport those present into a neanderthal cave.
The score from Simon Thorne's work

It will go on tour, complete with four singers, stone instruments and a video project to Harlech, Cardigan, Milford Haven and Swansea at the end of March, and already Mr Thorne has had "great interest" in his experiment from the British Museum.

He said the project had given him an insight into our own communication.

"We as human beings are instinctively creative," he said.

"We can't not be - we have to invent things and who's to say Neanderthal man did not invent the beginnings of music?"

"We use language for words, to communicate. But how do we learn language? If you look at babies and the noise they make, they learn to make singing noises before they learn to speak."
ramonmercado said:
.....It will go on tour, complete with four singers, stone instruments and a video project to Harlech, Cardigan, Milford Haven and Swansea at the end of March, and already Mr Thorne has had "great interest" in his experiment from the British Museum......

So it's Rock Music then,,,,