C’mon, let’s embrace our inner Neanderthal

Contributing WriterMarch 22, 2014 

Okay, okay, I’ll admit it! I’m part Neanderthal!

We almost all are, including you and you and you.

No wonder so many simple souls resent scientists. Those lab-coat smarty-pants are constantly telling us things we don’t want to hear. For one, we don’t appreciate learning recently that most of us are part of a different style of knuckle-dragging cavemen.

It’s bad enough that we descended from ordinary, run-of-the-mill cave guys and gals. Now it turns out that there were at least a couple other slightly different models of cave people way back in pre-history. Neanderthals, for instance.

It has recently come to light that our prime cave-dwelling ancestors co-existed with at least two other branches of the human family — Neanderthals and Denisovans. And we have learned that some of our ancestors did a lot more than simply co-exist, the frisky rascals. In short, science has confirmed through our DNA that our prime ancestors fooled around outside their own kind.

The Neanderthals and the Denisovans went extinct centuries ago, but their contributions to humankind still linger in our flesh and bones.

My wife and I have become keenly aware of that. We gave each other DNA human migration test kits for Christmas that reveal our links to ancient kissing cousins. Sharon and I participated in National Geographic’s Genographic Project that maps routes across the globe that our ancestors have traveled.

We were sent tools for scraping cells from inside our cheeks and mailed them to the Genographic people. They studied the material and then sent us personal maps of where our ancestors traveled from humanity’s place of origin in Africa. Yes, that’s right; we are all descended from Africans.

It turns out that I have no Denisovan in me. But I am 1.4 percent Neanderthal.

Sharon, by contrast, was found to be 3.1 percent Neanderthal and 5.1 percent Denisovan. In other words, she is 8.2 percent something other than today’s style of human. But that makes sense. People as attractive and likable as Sharon get hit on more often than my dull, lumpy ancestors.

The fossil record has revealed that virtually everyone currently living outside Africa is part Neanderthal. A small part of each one of us comes from a line of human types who were even more stupid-looking than we are. And now the joke’s on us.

Until just a few years ago, a Neanderthal was regarded as a kind of subhuman. Their bones show that they were more stoutly built and had oddly shaped heads, but with more brain room in their large skulls than we have.

One stereotype previously resulted in cartoons of Neanderthals as long-armed creatures with their knuckles dragging on the ground. And it has long been common for members of the House of Representative to call each other Neanderthals. That’s because Neanderthals, if they were still around, might agree with those House members today who believe Darwin was wrong, the world is flat and our current president was born in Kenya.

Some scientists have suggested that Neanderthals were almost entirely meat eaters, but my Neanderthal ancestry says to me that Neanderthals, like any hungry creature, would eat everything they could get their hands on — meat, vegetables or rocks.

Some new theories suggest that Neanderthals were omnivorous, eating everything from wild spinach to mastodons to fat toads. One scientist found residue of vegetable matter in the teeth of a Neanderthal skull.

But surely few Neanderthals were vegetarians. And no Neanderthal in human history has ever been a vegan. If there ever was a Neanderthal vegan, the Neanderthals probably ate him.

Meanwhile, I need to go buy Sharon and me more knuckle ointment.

Bill Hall can be contacted at wilberth@cableone.net or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501

The News Tribune is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service