anthropological news

Glenn Morton (
Wed, 17 Dec 1997 17:27:13 -0600

Several items of anthropological news have come up over the past month.

First, from

There is the report that a neanderthal skull cap has been found at
Ochtendung, Germany. The edges of the skull cap show cutmarks which indicate
that the skull cap was shaped, possibly into a drinking vessel. (yum, yum).
The date of this fossil is between 100 and 200,000 years ago, prior to the
advent of anatomically modern men on earth and much prior to their advent in
Europe. Thus, if this object represents some time of ritual cannibalism
then it would be indicative of religion among the Neanderthals. At the very
least this skull cap is consistent with that hypothesis. (see my cannibalism
report from a few weeks ago at )

The second item off the AP wire is the discovery of the youngest fossil
hominids ever found. Estimates of their age range around 3 years and
younger. The babies were 2 million years old and are believed to be from
Paranthropus, a closely related genus to Homo. Some anthropologists beleive
that Paranthropus also made stone tools.

Finally there is the reacion of Hugh Ross to the Neanderthal DNA report from
earlier this year. Hugh Ross write:

"When the Neandertal DNA fragment was compared with a DNA sequence of
986 nucleotide pairs from living humans of diverse ethnic
backgrounds, the difference was enormous an average of 26 nucleotide
links in the DNA chain differed completely. Modern humans differed
from one another in an average of eight links of the chain, and those
differences were independent of the 26 observed for the Neandertal
fossil. The researchers conclusion: Neandertals made no contribution
to humanity's gene pool."

Hugh falls into the same trap that the authors of the original Cell report
fell into--comparing an average with a range. It is true that the AVEREAGE
variation among modern human mtDNA sequences is 8 positional differences.
But the range of variation among modern humans is 1-24! The ONLY
Neanderthal sampled differed by 27 from the putative standard sequence.
Looked at in this way, it is not a huge difference at all. The original
authors wrote:

"Whereas these modern human sequences differ among
themselves by an average of 8.0+/- 4.1 (range 1-24)
substitutions, the difference between the humans and the
Neandertal sequence is 27.2+/-2.2 (range 22-36) substitutions.
thus the largest difference observed between any two human
sequences was two substitutions larger than the smallest
difference between a human and the Neandertal. In total, 0.002%
of the pairwise comparisions between human mtDNA sequences were
larger than the smallest difference between the Neandertal and a
Krings, Matthias, et al, 1997. "Neandertal DNA
Sequences and the Origin of Modern Humans," Cell, 90:19-30, p.

These authors are comparing the average (range 1-24) with an experimental
error. In determining the Neanderthal sequence there is an experimental
error. The actual value for this particular Neanderthal sequence lies
somewhere between 22 and 36 sequence differences. They came up with a
weighted mean of 27 sequence locations being different. Thus to compare the
AVERAGE human difference with the estimate of the divergence of the ONLY
Neanderthal sampled obviously will result in an unfavorable comparison. Are
those humans who differ by 24 sequence differences from me, less HUMAN??? Of
course not. This is true even if their mother left no mtDNA in me.
Similarly just because this Neanderthal's mother left no mtDNA in me does
not mean she was not an intelligent, spiritual being.

Now to back up my claim, when I posted this analysis on an anthropology
message board, two things happened. The berating of the multiregionalists
by those saying Neanderthal was not related in any fashion to mankind came
to an abrupt halt. And I got a favorable mention in the Anthropological
E-mail News. (below)


Researchers working in the US and Germany have extracted a short
segment of mtDNA from the Neandertal type specimen and opened the
door to a new era in the molecular study of human evolution. The
landmark research primarily proves the feasibility of obtaining
ancient mtDNA from human fossils. The resulting statistical
reconstructions of genetic lineages add more evidence pointing to
Africa as the origin of human mtDNA patterns. Writing in the
July 11 issue of Cell, Matthias Krings and Svante Paabo at the
University of Munich and Anne Stone and Mark Stoneking of
Pennsylvania State University report that the mtDNA sequence is,
very different from sequences that correspond to those of
modern humans. Paabo and his coworkers used the mitochondrial
control region of the 30 kyr Neandertal 1, (kept at the
Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Germany), and then copied and
amplified that genetic material, (consisting of 379 base pairs),
with the help of two human primers that matched the beginning of
the Neandertal sequence. When they compared the samples there
were, on average, 27 differences between the human samples and
that of the Neandertals at sites in the sequence where
modifications are known to occur. The average difference is seven
among modern humans at sites of known genetic modifications.
According to Stoneking, if European Neandertals had interbred
with modern humans they should display a close match to modern
Europeans. Statistical reconstructions conducted by Paabo's group
suggest that neanderthaland human lineages spilt around 600 kyr
and that the female founders of the modern human mtDNA lived
between 120 and 150 kyr. Other scientists, such as Milford
Wolpoff of the University of Michigan and Alan Templeton of
Washington University in Missouri are hesitant to make inferences
about an entire lineage based on one sample. John Relethford of
the State University of New York Oneonta, posted to the Origins
of Humankind Neanderthal message board, "While the evidence is
certainly suggestive of Neandertal extinction, we need to go back
and consider whether smaller past population size and drift could
affect the results, and to what degree. Also a good test would be
to follow this up with DNA extraction with post-neanderthal
Europeans, archaic Africans, etc. Geophysicist Glenn Morton has
also posted a series of possible statistical problems to the
Neanderthal board, which he feels might have influenced Paabo and
his colleagues' work. Look for Morton's remarks under the heading
-Statistical error in mtDNA article- posted on July 26. The
Neanderthal message board URL is

Contributed by Trace Clark "

Unfortunately they have altered the message boards, changed the url and I
have no idea where the message archives are there. or even the old enews.


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