Re: Neanderthal DNA

Dick Fischer (
Sat, 12 Jul 1997 23:02:41 -0500

Glenn Morton wrote:

>One has to be careful about the definition of species. Usually with living
>things it has to do with ability to interbreed and produce fertile offspring
>(I am aware that there are other definitions). In the case of Neanderthal
>and Homo erectus, obviously we can't dig them up, have sex with them and
>produce anything. So there is no way to determine species via the
>interbreeding definition and to me that is the best definition for
>speciation. In anthropology, Neanderthals are classified in the same species
>as we are.

Anthropologist fall on both sides of that issue. The majority (I believe) use
one "sapiens" and call the big guys "Neanderthals," which equates to separate
species consistent with the new report. Now, procreation may not be testable,
but enough separation in DNA would mean the same thing. Also the presence of
genetic markers in Neanderthals that might be missing in modern humans would
also be suggestive of separate species, and vice versa.

>They are a subspecies, Homo sapiens neanderthalensis and we are
>Homo sapiens sapiens (we have the big ego by attaching two 'wise's" to our
>type, but their brains were bigger than ours.) By this taxonomy, they are
>saying that we could have interbred with a Neanderthal (ugly though they
>might be).

My guess is that female Homo sapiens might have had a certain desirability
factor surpassing Neanderthal females thus making them targets. And,
who knows, maybe big, rugged guys with buns at the base of their skulls
could have impressed the ladies. But if the report is right, it didn't
happen, or the occasional offspring led to dead ends, that is, never got
back into our bloodline.

>Overall, there are very few differences between us and the Neanderthals.

Compare the skeletons of zebras with horses, yet they are separate species.

Okay, I know it's a tough issue. I'm not pretending to know what the
answers here, but there can be no question that the Neanderthals branched
off from ancestors common to us. At the inception, cross breeding should have
been possible, but after thousands of years, breeding in isolation, they could
have become a separate species incapable of producing offspring with Homo
sapiens. We don't know whether they could have or not, but we now have data
suggesting they didn't.

>The Atapuercans who are believed to be the ancestors of the Neanderthals who
>buried their dead in the Sima de los Huesos in Spain, 800,000 years ago,
>have brain sizes (ca. 1250 cc) which are only slightly smaller than the
>modern average, ca. 1370 cc. But we christians won't call them
>theologically, humans.

Why wouldn't biological humans be theological humans?

Dick Fischer