Not only is the human genome project completed – the mapping of all 24,000 human genes, but scientists have also completely mapped the Neanderthal Genome; from DNA recovered from bones dating back some 38,000 years. The results were surprising and have caused a total re-assessment of one of our closest cousins.
Like the rest of our relatives – the great apes and early hominid species – Neanderthals always got a bit of a bum deal. Scientists said they were….
On average Neanderthal brains were a fifth bigger than ours
Dumb… literally – they couldn’t speak
Neanderthals had the same speech related Gene FOXP2 with the same mutations as modern humans.
Brutish and violent, scavengers and cannibals
They were sophisticated big game hunters, who cooked vegetables and wild grains. There is evidence of cannibalism, but from necessity – eating the dead when facing starvation in a world much harsher than ours. How is that any different to what we have done in similar circumstances – such as the Andean plane crash or the Donner party when trapped by winter snows in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1846.
That is not to say they were better than us. Neanderthals could be just as violent with each other as we are.
No culture and a rudimentary tool kit that never evolved
Neanderthals built canoes to sail to Mediterranean islands. They constructed complex shelters using mammoth tusks and bones. There is evidence men stayed in the tribe, while women came from outside – implying marriage rituals. They buried their dead. They created art such as ring structures made from shaped and coloured stalagmites.
Neanderthals were different from us
Scientists were also wrong about humans and Neanderthal cross-breeding. They dismissed skeletons of children from Mount Carmel in Israel and Lagar Velho in Portugal that had features from both species. But recent gene analysis shows modern humans and Neanderthals shared between 99.5% and 99.9% of their genes. At least 4% of the genes in modern Europeans, and their descendants across the globe, are unique to Neanderthals.
Scientists also maintain Neanderthals went extinct almost 40,000 years ago. Although there is evidence to suggest they existed around 24,000 years ago. Given they were wrong about everything else could they be wrong about this too?
It may be possible small groups of Neanderthals survived in Europe into historical times and are responsible for European legends of trolls and dwarves.
There are legends of the Alma, a humanoid who ranges from the edge of Siberia to the Caucasus Mountains that lie between the Black and Caspian Seas. A 19th century report of a captured female Alma described her as having a short stocky build and being immensely strong; with red hair, sloping forehead and robust receding chin. Genetic evidence shows Neanderthals to have red or sandy hair. The last reliable sighting of an Alma was made by a Russian scientist in 1948.
Central to my novel Thomas the Rhymer is the idea that fairies are the result of cross breeding between us and Neandethal. The fairies inherited their psychic abilities or glamour – the name given to fairy magic – from their Neanderthal ancestors. Learn more in Horatio Grin’s Short History of the Fairy Race