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Our Lost Cousins

Our last remaining cousins, the Neanderthals, died out approximately 35,000 years ago. 

They were the second to last surviving bipedal apes before vanishing into the mists of time. We, homo sapiens, are the last ones standing. And, we are the final ones from a total group of early hominids now estimated to be around 23 in number. This number however, is constantly being revised as anthropologists make greater inroads into understanding the science and history of bones.

When the first discovery of Neanderthal bones was made in the Neander Valley in Germany in 1856, the initial determination was made that the bones were from some early “caveman” and unrelated to modern humans. But, within a few years, it was determined the remains were those of an extinct form of human. Over the early years after the discovery, research concluded they were a big, slow-witted form of human, lacking in the intelligence and sophistication of homo sapiens. They were often depicted in cartoons as brutish, dragging females around by their hair and swinging clubs. The latest research has now revealed the Neanderthals to be as sophisticated as their homo sapien cousins having burial ceremonies, making primitive jewelry, and creating cave art. The oldest known cave painting is a red hand stencil in Maltravieso cave, Cáceres, Spain. It has been dated using the uranium-thorium method to older than 64,000 years and is now conclusively determined to have been made by a Neanderthal.

Caption: Neanderthal Handprints from Maltravieso Cave. 

Ther were skilled hunters and foragers and generally lived in groups of 30 or so. It is believed they migrated from Africa around 400,000 years ago, living transient lifestyles as far north and west as what is now Britain, through part of the Middle East, to Uzbekistan and as far south as Spain.

Most researchers agree that modern humans and Neanderthals interbred, though many believe that sex between the two species occurred rarely. These matings introduced a small amount of Neanderthal DNA into the human gene pool. Today, most people living outside of Africa have trace amounts of Neanderthal DNA in their genomes from between 1% to 4%. People of European and Asian descent have an estimated average of 2 percent Neanderthal DNA. Indigenous Africans may have little or no Neanderthal DNA. That’s because the two species did not meet and mate until after modern humans had migrated out of Africa. Some of the Neanderthal genes that persist in humans today may influence traits having to do with sun exposure. These include hair color, skin tone, and sleeping patterns. 

Caption: Neanderthals Recreated by Sculptors.

Neanderthals had been living in Europe and Asia for hundreds of thousands of years before modern humans first arrived. Neanderthals were already adapted to the climate of Eurasia, and some experts think Neanderthal DNA may have conveyed some advantage to modern humans as they exited Africa and colonized points north.

A new discovery seems to indicate they cared for each other. Some Neanderthal bones have now been discovered that reveal bad breaks and diseases. The persons with these afflicted bones could not possibly have survived without care. Neanderthals could also speak like modern humans, a further study suggests. An analysis of a Neanderthal’s fossilized hyoid bone; a horseshoe-shaped structure in the neck suggests the species had the ability to speak. This has been suspected since the 1989 discovery of a Neanderthal hyoid that looks just like a modern human’s.

Why did the Neanderthals die off? There have been a number of opinions and theories on their fate that include violence from encroaching anatomically modern humans, parasites and pathogens, competitive replacement, competitive exclusion, extinction by interbreeding with early modern human populations, natural catastrophes, and failure or inability to adapt to climate change. The latest hypothesis to arise seems to indicate it’s possible they simply couldn’t reproduce fast enough to keep up with the modern humans moving into Europe around that time.

Caption: Recreation Of A Neanderthal Family.

Like modern humans, Neanderthals probably descended from a very small populace with an effective population of between 3,000 to 12,000, therefore a healthy number of females who could bear children. Even so, it seems Neanderthals maintained a very low population, proliferating weakly harmful genes due to the reduced effectivity of natural selection. Various studies, using microconidia DNA analysis, yield varying effective populations of between 1,000 to 25,000 steadily increasing up to around 50,000 before declining until extinction. However, all agree on a low population, which may have been up to 10 times smaller than contemporary human populations in Western Europe possibly because Neanderthals had much lower fertility rates. The Homosapien population at that time was estimated at anywhere between 50,000 to100,000. 

I often wonder what the world would be like today if the Neanderthals were still amongst us. Would they be treated like zoo animals? Or, would we recognize them as our family cousins? Would they have been regarded as children of god? What must it have been like for the last, solitary Neanderthal? I do not think anyone could be as lonely as that last Neanderthal alive. 

According to some reports, a Neanderthal male with a haircut and a shirt and suit, a tie, and shoes would not look too different from a modern male. Yes, the Neandtherals were stockier and heavier than us but looking around at all the obese people in this modern world, they would not draw any undue attention.

Any comments? I’d love to hear from you.

A book you might want to read is “A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived.”  by Adam Rutherfurd.

Post Image Credit: tellerreport.com

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Meet your Poster Michael Trigg

I grew up in New Zealand and up until I left, a genuine Kiwi. I moved to the Land of OZ (Australia) when I was 22 where I worked until moving to New Guinea. A year and a half of working in sweltering tropical heat was enough for me and I moved back to NZ. Suffering from wandering feet, I emigrated to Canada in 1969, living and working in Vancouver with some time spent working in a mine in Northern BC. After a short spell in Vancouver, I moved to California where I enjoyed surfing and the CA lifestyle.  After 6 months of the good times, I moved back to Vancouver where I ended up getting married,  settled down, fathered 3 great kids who  in turn have provided me with two wonderful grandchildren. In my working life, I have been a mechanic, a welder, an auto dealership owner, a TV producer, production manager,  marketing and sales management, an insurance specialist, owned my own insurance agency, and ran my own business consulting agency for the last 8 years. Combined with this trade, I have been writing short stories, a half dozen children's books, two film scripts, numerous business, and marketing plans, blogging and writing online articles, and generally having fun. I love writing and love feedback, good or bad - or indifferent. I love researching, learning, reading, good conversation, debating, and challenges. My hobbies are sailing, playing the guitar, reading, green travel and genealogy. What is the most important thing in my life?  Family and the environment.     

What do you think?

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  1. There are so many fascinating aspects of our history I would love to explore but as of yet lack the resources or time to do so. Who were the ancient people who lived in what is now the bottom of the English Channel? How many of the modern religions have common roots in the ancient Babylonian Aryan people? (Not to be confused with the modern misguided “aryan” people who think they were all nazis of course, but the original Aryan people who were travelers to locations around the world including modern India, South America and other locations) The ancient Mesoamerican races? What is the origins of the Basques and other primarily RH negative people? The elongated skulls with markedly different physiological differences than human skulls so common in central and south America.

    Fascinating topics one and all I think, but this is a beautifully written and informative piece of the puzzle until I can build my library. Thank you.

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