Neanderthal Research Continues

Neanderthal ResearchThe familiar name “Neanderthal” came from the place where scientists found the first skulls in 1856 near Neander, Germany. Writers have published numerous articles about Neanderthals. Most of the articles have been very misleading about who the Neanderthals were, what they looked like, how they lived, and what connection they have to modern humans. Neanderthal research presents a changing picture.

The popular perception of Neanderthals has been connected to the term “ape-man” often used to describe them. At the Max Planck Institute early in the 20th century, a French paleontologist depicted Neanderthals as “apelike and backward.” In 1953, a movie titled The Neanderthal Man popularized them as primitive humans with passions and desires common to apes. The view for years was that the Neanderthals were brutes who huddled in cold caves gnawing on slabs of slain mammoths.

The truth is that Neanderthals walked upright and had larger brains and larger lung capacities than modern humans. They made complex tools, built shelters, created and traded jewelry, wore clothes, created art, buried their dead, had language and a form of worship. What has convinced scientists to change their understanding has been Neanderthal research and the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome. Comparisons of the Neanderthal genome and the modern European genome shows that up to 4% of modern human genes came from Neanderthals. They were not brutes or ape-men. They were totally human.

Probably much of the reason for the negative stereotyping is the “out of Africa” scenario promoted by many as the origin of human history. Some scientists have not wanted to admit that human origins seem to have come from a more northern source. Dr. Joao Zilhao, a Portuguese paleoanthropologist and an expert on Neanderthals, says: “The mainstream narrative of our origins has been fairly straightforward: the exodus of modern humans from Africa was depicted like it was a biblical event: Chosen ones replacing debased Europeans, the Neanderthals. Nonsense, all of it.”

Neanderthals were not apes or brutes of a different species of humans. They were a race of humans that had specific physiological characteristics that are somewhat different from the appearance of humans today. The Neanderthal Museum near Dusseldorf, Germany, displays a recreation of a Neanderthal by renowned paleo-artists Adrie and Alfons Kennis. He is groomed, wearing a business suit, and looking like the politician he could have been. For that matter, his name might have been Adam. As Neanderthal research continues, we will see what develops.
— John N. Clayton

Reference: Smithsonian Magazine, May 2019.

Human History in DNA

Human History in DNA
In the last decade, geneticists have learned how to decode DNA in ancient human remains. We can now begin to see human history in DNA. The media has saturated us with the theory that humans originated in Africa and migrated from there to the rest of the world. National Geographic was a major promoter of that theory, and it was based on the field work of a group of anthropologists like Louis Leakey who actively defended that view. Discussions about race have also been a part of this debate among scientists, and sometimes the exchanges have been less than cordial.

The most recent debate along these lines has come with the release of a book titled Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past by David Reich. Reich runs a lab at Harvard Medical School which has released a great deal of data in the past decade. In 2010 Reich’s lab informed us that all non-Africans have Neanderthal DNA in their genome. Reich maintains that race is a social construct and that differences in genetic makeup are geographically related.

A group of 67 scholars released an open letter on objecting to Reich’s racial concepts. Other anthropologists have contended that the reality of our origins “is more complex and interesting than scientists ever imagined.”

The biblical description of human history is so brief that one should not look for conflicts with the biblical account. The Bible tells us that we are all related, and the fact that all races are fertile with one another supports that. The Bible does not tell us when Adam and Eve lived or how much time elapsed as humans migrated throughout the world.

A careful study of the Bible indicates that we are all equal and have a common ancestry. God’s design of our genome has allowed us to survive as a species for a very long time in spite of disease. Reich’s book supports that notion but gives us some idea of how the design has worked by examining human history in DNA.
–John N. Clayton © 2018