What Really Happened to Neanderthals?

Your ultra-marathon and triathlete friends (or enemies) will tell you that Neanderthals were beat out for scarce resources by a bunch of persistent hunting humans. And if not that, they’ll say a highly-agile, highly-intelligent homosapien out-smarted or killed-off the dumber, slower, ape-like caveman between 10 and 40,000 years ago.

But realistically, both explanations are wrong. As recent evidence in the journal Nature, and the documentary it was presented in (Decoding Neanderthals), suggests otherwise.

The Neanderthals didn’t die off, they were bred out – after coming in contact and co-inhabiting with modern-day humans that out-numbered them 10-to-1.

A fact that could unfortunately only be validated once scientists had access to Neanderthal DNA. Which showed them that ALL modern day humans are part Neanderthal, with DNA percentages ranging from 1-4% (less in Africans and more in Europeans).

geico-caveman

Fortunately, this doesn’t mean those of us with higher percentages are any less intelligent (so, you can blame that on the other 96-99% of your DNA). As researchers also discovered that Neanderthals were far more intelligent than is commonly portrayed.

  • Practicing rituals and using symbolism – evidenced by drawings, body paintings and other decorations, and suggesting higher brain development
  • Creating sophisticated tools – notably the highly sophisticated flint (or levewaw) flake that was created via precise strikes that made it sharp on all edges with the ability to resharpen with each blow; and the flint spearhead it was attached too, that was a combination of sinew leather and an adhesive created from birch bark (potentially the first complex industrial process)
  • Communicating with language – proven after the discovery of the FOXP2 gene in their DNA

What it does say, is that some of us may have a stronger immune system and resistance to infection. Since this is the part of the Neanderthal genome we seem to have inherited (1, 2).

Interestingly, this heavy resistance to external threats appears to have developed in the Neanderthal after surviving hundreds-of-thousands of years in brutal weather (ice age) and dangerous living conditions. Not only making a case for harsh, challenging circumstances toughening us up, but raising the question of whether or not our toughness is in our DNA?

And more importantly, whether the strong, resilient, muscled-up beasts we all aspire to be like, are actually more Neanderthal?

strongman

It appears time will tell, as researchers continue to look at the differences between Neanderthal DNA and modern humans. With evidence just last month showing the potential for higher rates of addiction, depression, blood clots, and skin problems for those with a higher Neanderthal %.  Unfortunately, the headlines would have you believing this is a sure thing, even though it’s more like a slim chance; but it does show that more Neanderthal DNA may not necessarily be all positive.

The other thing it shows, is that there’s definitely a little Neanderthal in all of us…whether you like it or not.

Stay Lean!

Coach Mike


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