Did Humans and Neanderthals Have Sex?

Did they really “do it?”

We’re not talking about actress Kristen Stewart and her “Snow White and the Huntsman” director; We’re talking about Neanderthals and modern humans.
Without meaning to get all People magazine on you, the question about whether modern humans and Neanderthals hooked up has again become a subject of scientific debate.

The short answer is yes, they had sex. At least, based on the science it certainly appears there was indeed “interbreeding” between modern humans and Neanderthals.
But a counter argument published in PNAS, asserts that the shared DNA found in both modern humans and our Neanderthal cousins may have come from common African ancestors. Since the paper’s publication there has been a lot of coverage in the popular press, as well as science-centered publications.

Several researchers have said the model supporting the theory that the shared DNA comes from a common African ancestor is wrong. Beyond that, the science done to support the theory of interbreeding actually took into account the idea that is the cornerstone of their theory and debunked it.
Or as Discovery magazine blogger Razib Khan observed, “One could say that the appropriate follow up paper to the PNAS contribution was actually published before it.”

23andMe scientist Eric Durand, a computational biologists who helped work on the first draft of the Neanderthal genome and on analysis of the Denisova genome— another of our early human cousins — said much the same thing.

“It is surprising that such a paper got published — and received so much press coverage — as the initial paper explored such a demographic model of ancient structure and wrote in the main text that it could explain the data,” Eric said. “At this time we simply regarded this model as less parsimonious than the recent admixture model, because the ancient structure model implies that barrier to gene flow consistently separated highly adaptable hominins for hundreds of generations.”

Beyond that paper published in Science two years ago, Eric worked with others from UC Berkeley on a paper published earlier this year, using another statistical approach that also undercuts the theory that a common African cousin explains the shared DNA between modern humans and Neanderthal.

What’s more exciting for Eric is that this more recent paper uses a new methodology to estimate that the interbreeding occurred between 37,000 and 86,000 years ago, or about the time when modern humans began their slow migration from Africa to Europe.

The estimate “actually coincides pretty well with the estimated time of the ‘out-of-Africa’ event,” Eric said.

Check out these posts about Neanderthals and Humans:
Find Your Inner Neanderthal
New Evidence Suggests Humans and Neanderthal Interbreeding

Got Neanderthal DNA?

23andMe customers can find their inner Neanderthal or at least how much Neanderthal DNA they have at 23andMe Ancestry Labs. Not yet a customer? Visit our store!


  • http://www.hiltsu.fi Hiltsu

    Most likely homo sapiens (us) will have sex with homo evolutis (name referred from this videohttp://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/juan_enriquez_will_our_kids_be_a_different_species.html)

    And dna-wise we are 75% http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pbio.1000112 similar with the mouse. More comparative genomics information from here http://www.genome.gov/11509542

    - Jari

    • Kari Ju

      don’t cite to TED talks; it broadcasts your ignorance and gullibility to the world.

  • http://jobschildren.blogspot.com. jobschildren

    I’ve seen people at Walmart who look like purebred Neanderthals, so I believe it.

  • Lisa

    I was wondering what these neanderthal genes code for?
    I was informed that 2.8% of my genes are of neanderthal origin, and am not surprised because one parent is East Asian and one is of European origin.
    I have read that somehow scientists have discovered that the neanderthal contribution was the result of mating between neanderthal men and Homo sapiens women, so perhaps they were not voluntarily mating?
    I mean, they didn’t have beer back then…

    Okay, I know, I’m being a tad silly.

  • Buzzy204

    So much for the saying that what happens in the stone age stays in the stone age

  • Mike

    If these two “separate species” mated and birthed viable offspring, then they should be too genetically similar to be considered discrete species. As long as they share that lovely Robertsonian translocation we’re all so fond of, right? :)
    Biological species concept– nuff said.

  • Eagle

    I am not saying that sex between modern humans and Neanderthals did not happen. My question was there a child? Base on only on DNA showing that humans and Neanderthals had the same DNA. My thinking a tree and modern human has the same DNA but a tree and modern humans can’t produce a hybrid. Modern humans and Chimpanzee can’t produce a hybrid. So why can modern humans and Neanderthals would produce a hybrid?

    • Mike

      Because Neanderthals have compatible gametes with modern humans. Chimpanzees have an extra acrocentric chromosome that was lost in the formation of the “modern” metacentric chromosome 2, meaning that karyogamy between humans and chimps isn’t possible.
      Likewise, Neanderthal gametes would be incompatible with chimpanzees.

  • Fernando

    Every time I see a depiction of a Neanderthal why is it always an aged version. Maybe, they at their prime or even at a younger age would have been much more attractive. Not to mention, I or we have seen pictures of certain ethnic groups in Europe that do resemble Neandertals….and so they do live among us but also, somehow we have known that.

    • ScottH

      There have been images created of younger Neanderthals.

    • Ed

      Actually, the guy in that picture is really only 23. By neanderthal standards he looks pretty good.
      :)

  • Wayne

    I’m pretty sure this was alluded to in the finale of Battlestar Galactica…

  • Hugh Beaumont

    I thought Neanderthals evolved into modern humans? So some were left behind?

  • Darrell Pruitt

    Fraternity brothers… You got to love ‘em.

  • gadiv

    Implying Kristen Stewart is a neanderthal is kinda harsh and irrelevant to the article, isn’t it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/carl.miller.9678 Carl Miller

    Well, that explains a lot! I have some of that gene pool living next door.

  • tipper3

    But, they were all human, there is no such thing as humans and neanderthals.

  • John Geurkink

    Good grief, how long does this stuff have to continue, Neanderthals are different because of the big brows and enlarge jaws bone, things expected from those who lived 500-900 years as before the flood, they are simply humans but science insists on leading away from the truth.

  • Paul Keppeler

    well– Neanderthals as Denisova had speech the could swim and were not afraid of water—- Neanderthals developed a glue from birch trees 80000 years ago which takes a process of maintaining a controlled temperature of 400 degree , they had to have tightly sewn clothing ( without that they coulldnt have survived– go to Alaska or Siberia and run around with a deer-skin hanging over your shoulders– you will be dead in a few days–that type of clothing worked only in Afrika and not in iceage Northern Europe )– all we know of them is based on a few-hundred fossil finds located on the outer fringes of their habitat . found in hard accessable caves ( probably burial caves ) it appears that modern humans rolled the stones away from entrances of those burial caves and eat some of the dead Neadnderthals— Neanderthals probably lived mainly in the now flooded areas of Europe ( since the last ice age snow melted , those areas are flooded up to ~ 120 ‘)– the Dutch dredged a few Neanderthal fossils from Ocean floor ( North Sea )—- The DNA evidence provided by Paabo, Green , Trinkhouse , Krause showed that the DNA altered or mutated 70000-38000 years ago– big brow ridges are also common today among old people—- By the way Neanderthals had DNA which allowed for redhair , white skin , blue eyes, green eyes and freckles as a mutation— with the exceptions of subsaharan Africans all humans on the planet have either Denisova or Neanderthal archaic DNA portions in their DNA—– Neanderthals where 99.9% like us- last not least their brain “cavity” was on an average 13% larger then ours today!!!!!———– and yes they had sex with us and babies and so on—– see also the Lapedo? child Portugal

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