Most of Us are a Bit Neanderthal

by | Dec 2, 2019

Picture Source: The New Yorker

Homo sapiens originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago and then migrated north into Europe and Asia about 70,000 years ago. When they arrived in Eurasia, Homo sapiens found two other hominid cousins already occupied the Eurasian landmass: Neanderthals and Denisovans.

Source: The Scientist Magazine

As humans migrated throughout the Eurasian landmass we interbred with the Neanderthals, which led to Neanderthal DNA being part of the Homo sapien gene pool. Note, however, that because indigenous Africans did not migrate out of Africa they did not interbreed with Neanderthals and thus do not have any Neanderthal DNA.

Source: Dr. Bridget Alex – Harvard

The determination that most modern humans have some Neanderthal DNA is possible because scientists have been able to sequence the Neanderthal genome from skeletal remains. A recent study compared the genomes of Neanderthal skeletons found in Croatia and Siberia with the genomes of early and modern humans and found the following:

A proportion of the genomes of all present-day people whose roots are outside Africa derives from Neanderthals. We find that non-African populations outside Oceania carry between 1.8 and 2.6% Neanderthal DNA, higher than previous estimates of 1.5 to 2.1% . East Asians carry somewhat more Neanderthal DNA (2.3 to 2.6%) than people in Western Eurasia (1.8 to 2.4%). Science

Below is a diagram from the study showing the degree of Neanderthal DNA by human population location:

Source: A high-coverage Neandertal genome from Vindija Cave in Croatia

Because most humans have some Neanderthal DNA, scientists are re-thinking the hypothesis that humans were violent towards the Neanderthal and may have been a factor in their extinction due to humans hunting and killing them. Instead, “perhaps our ancestors made love, not war, with their European cousins, and the Neanderthal lineage disappeared because it was absorbed into the much larger human population.” Source.

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  1. Ah yes, I know how Neanderthal I am, courtesy of 23andMe. I have 306 Neanderthal genetic variants which make me 4% Neanderthal and put me in the top decile, which my wife finds amusing. She, of course, is significantly less Neanderthal and claims to have always known that.

    • That is really funny!

  2. Very interesting. What if the Neanderthals were thieves and rapist?. Maybe that’s why they build the Great Wall of China.
    I’m pretty sure some of the people I work with are over 50% neanderthal DNA

    • That’s funny!


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