Find Your Inner Neanderthal

They had bigger brains and muscles, but for some reason Neanderthals —thick boned humans who thrived for hundreds of thousands of years in Europe and parts of Asia— died out about 30,000 years ago, while we modern humans survived.

Why we, Homo sapiens, flourished and our Homo neandertalensis cousins died out is an evolutionary mystery that biologist are trying to unravel.

In the last few years, scientists have uncovered clues not just to what the lives of Neanderthals may have been like, but also clues that tell us more about what it means to be a modern human.

Most interesting of all is that, although Neanderthals disappeared long ago, their DNA lives on in all non-African people.

23andMe now offers a lab allowing customers to connect with their prehistoric roots. The lab, developed by one of our resident computational biologists, Eric Durand, compares two modern human genomes with the Neanderthal genome to determine what percentage of your own DNA is Neanderthal. Before coming to 23andMe, Eric worked on the first draft of the Neanderthal genome and on analysis of the Denisova genome, another of our early human cousins. The method we use to determine the percent of Neanderthal DNA a person has is similar to the one Eric  helped develop while working at the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. See Eric’s white paper for a technical explanation of the methodology.

Most people have Neanderthal DNA, on average about 2.5 percent, but there are outliers, who have much more.

What it means to have a higher percentage of Neanderthal DNA — whether you’re hairier, or brutish or short, for instance — isn’t known. There are some theories, however, of how Neanderthals contributed to modern humans, including that they gave us some sort of “hybrid vigor,” according to Peter Parham, a geneticist at Stanford University School of Medicine.

At the very least research appears to support the theory that at some point during the tens of thousands of years Neanderthals and modern humans lived side by side, a few of them may have shacked up.

Or as Elizabeth Kolbert deftly phrased it in the New Yorker:
“Before modern humans ‘replaced’ the Neanderthals, they had sex with them.”

Provocative to say the least, but it’s actually an idea that’s floated around for some time. Anybody who ever read Jean M. Auel’s saucy prehistoric romance books beginning with “Clan of the Cave Bear” could tell you that. But the notion that modern humans and Neanderthals got way past first base, hooked up and even had children together still doesn’t tell us much about what it means now to have a smidgen of Neanderthal in your DNA.

Svante Pääbo, the Swedish geneticist behind the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome, explains that from an evolutionary point of view comparing the modern human’s genome to that of the Neanderthal has great value.

Humans and Neanderthals share a common ancestor with chimpanzees — our next closest mammalian relative — that goes back between five and seven million years. Comparing the human genome with that of chimps tells us a lot about evolution over millions of years. But by having the Neanderthal genome sequence — now 55 percent completed — and comparing that with modern humans, we can learn much more about evolutionary changes over the last 30,000 years.

It may be that the DNA of other prehistoric human groups also are intermixed in our own DNA. Much like with Neanderthals, scientists extracted ancient DNA from the skeletal remains of another ancient cousin known as the Denisovans. The remains — a finger bone — were found in a cave in Siberia and showed that Denisovans were cousins of Neanderthals. They lived in Asia and disappeared about 40,000 years ago. Their DNA is found today in Melanesians.

As for the comparisons with the Neanderthals, so far, Pääbo’s team has found almost 80 genetic variants that are unique to modern humans. The function of these variants could help us understand what distinguishes us from Neanderthal.

Apparently Pääbo’s work has also resonated beyond the scientific community as well. At a talk late last year, Pääbo told a group of neuroscientists that for months he’s been keeping emails from people who have claimed that they were Neanderthal and should be included in his study. Several women have written to him volunteering their husbands as subjects for study.

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!


  • Ginny

    Why we, Homo sapiens, flourished and our Homo neandertalensis cousins died out is an evolutionary mystery that biologist are trying to unravel.
    Let me venture a guess. First of all, life expectancy back then was max 35 years, if they were lucky. Males dominated the decision making process, did not listen to their women, or common sense, they let stupidity, anger, violence rule their world, so they got decimated into extinction.

    Look at out present day male dominated societies. Full of violence and destruction. Its not rocket science to figure this out, When 49.9% of humans (male) think they are smarter and brighter than the other 50.1% (female) there is a fundamental problem in their thinking. Education and enlightenment is the answer in our quest for peace and survival.

    • Mike

      I don’t think it’s at all clear that Neanderthals were benighted patriarchs, or that prehistoric Homo Sapiens were not. We do know that most H. Sapiens societies in historical times have been “male-dominated,” and yet we have thrived. Although I generally agree with your conclusion, it doesn’t really follow from your argument. Then, too, I put “male-dominated” in quotes because generations of boys and girls have had their earliest education from their mothers. It goes too far to say “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,” but I think it’s fair to say women have not been given their share of the credit, or blame, in the course of human development.

      As far as the difference between Neanderthals and H. Sapiens, I can well imagine it may turn out to be more cultural than biological. But, again, to assume the Neanderthals were the more brutish is unfounded, and overlooks the distinct possibility that brutishness may have long been an evolutionary advantage. It’s plausible that our race has prospered because our ancestors killed off our nearest competitors. Of course, that must be considered in the light of a world in which our gravest present peril may be our own prosperity.

    • OrcinusAdamant

      Thus spoke the one who’s ancestor’s were found with fractures and cracks on their skulls. Thus making it clear, that to this day, the “smarter” female, still has not learned, her damn role.

    • Oracle Jones

      But Ginny, if maleness is the root of all our problems doesn’t that put lesbians in a bad light? How politically incorrect of you.

    • Bonnie

      Your ability to grossly generalize the male population is breathtaking!! I’m a 62 yr. old woman (and staunch feminist) who can’t imagine being lumped with all other women in one sweeping comment. Most men are wonderful. Those that “lead” aren’t like the rest of us. By nature they must be different or they wouldn’t be where they are, right? So let’s look there before we male-bash.

    • William O. B’Livion

      Ginny, have you managed to learn to type on two different keyboards at once?

      In stereo as it were?

    • ynarugam

      Ginny, I have a feeling that Neanderthals had too many women like you in their group and they prefered not to breed and perpetuate a race that produced so hateful a female. Just a guess mind you.

    • xavier.marmosa

      Aside from all this gender bashing, Neanderthal was a specific type of species acclimated to winter regions. The pale skin, extra muscle, and bigger brain helped them survive during harsh living conditions that their African counterparts (Cro-Magnum) didn’t have until after they interbred. They processed food differently (in winter you HAD to be a meat eater because plants were scarce). Read a book on your blood type for information on different digestive tracks. They also were muscular and hairier for obvious warmth/hunting reasons. Neanderthals apparently showed evidence of “feelings” in ways Cro-Magnum didn’t (bones and flowers were arranged around funerals for their dead). There’s a type of winter mice that get chubby for the cold season and remain “monogamous” to their birthing partner. A chemical called “oxytocins” is higher in these mice than regular summer mice, creating the bonding or “love” element that keeps these mice parents together long enough for the survival of their baby. If they weren’t monogamous, one mouse wouldn’t feel the need to keep the baby warm while the other went to find food. They had to work together or die in the harsh environment that surrounded them. Human mothers excrete this same “oxytocin” in their breast milk. It’s likely that Neanderthal was more “emotionally intelligent” than their Cro-Magnum counterparts (living conditions gave them natural selection through cooperation) but, due to the same passivity that this new element created, left them ruthlessly exposed to the more aggressive Cro-Magnum slaughter later. Sadly, history is told by the victor.

      • John Knauf

        This is an interesting, insightful, and well articulated argument. Thank you for leaping over the bounds of opinion, bias, cultural conditioning, and just plain ignorance to offer something that moves the entire argument in the right direction. It was a refreshing read.

        • Susan Balee

          I like what you say here, too, and I believe much of this argument may be found in Clive Finlayson’s book, “The Humans Who Went Extinct.” I think what will soon be common knowledge is that there were many different types of humanoid species running around at the same time. Some survived and thrived, others didn’t.

          One thing, though — it’s Cro-Magnon. Cro-’Magnum’ were the mythical ancestors who discovered champagne. (Just kidding)

      • Dean Nyffeler

        Aren’t these oxytocins the same or similar to the chemicals released into the bloodstreams of both dogs and the humans that are petting them.

    • d

      I find the influence on Northern Europeans to be clear. We are not tribal people. Those contemporary cultures without the Neanderthal gene are all tribal cultures and not the better for it. The Northern people with the gene gave the world the concepts of individual rights. The Neanderthal lived in small groups only out of necessity. this is in part why they died out.

      • DLS

        The Goths, Visigoths, Vandals, etc. were not tribal but favored individual rights? Really?

    • Lee

      I think Ginny was being humorous, tongue in cheek, etc.

    • Ken

      I got it. Women do not display a lack of common sense, anger, stupidity or violence. Not sure how that explains the behavior of many women I know, but now I know it must be something other than the above.

      Thanx for the info. I am eternally grateful, because now I can search for the real causes of the behavior of many women I know.
      (NO ladies, I do not mean all of you.)

    • Dale

      There is no reason to believe that a male dominated society, even one that routinely kills a high percentage of female infants, is at a survival disadvantage in the near term.

      However, I suspect that neandertal did participate in the practice of killing off any female infant born before the first born male. This created a lack of females for mating, and when modern man invaded their territory the unmated neandertal males captured modern man females as mates. The result would have been that over generations the neandertal genes would have become progressively more diluted.

    • Tom

      those must have been the golden years for environmentalists,, Neanderthals lived off the land, didn’t waste any natural resources, and didn’t stick around too long causing overpopulation on the Earth. Get in, Get what you need, and Get out! ~ maybe they had it right…

  • Brian

    Ginny I believe you might have that all wrong. I suggest that in the Neanderthals the women were the decision makers. They had the tribe searching for malls,new shoes and restaurants for so long everyone died of starvation. Glad I could clear this up for you.

    • Aman

      I agree, Brian..
      and the men said they wont let their kids suffer the same way and refused to procreate….

  • heather

    Actually 35 was an average age – you are talking about the hostility of the environment when you discuss age. High infant mortality rates, infections. If primitive man led an uneventful life, didn’t die from a cut on the finger or a broken bone (and didn’t get eaten) then he/she could live well into his/her 70s. And do you personally know any Neanderthals well enough to call them stupid or angry? Do you know that they treated their women like crap? And while you say neanderthal died out because of stupid violent men you are describing modern day Homo Sapiens the exact same way. And there are just as many violent, stupid angry females (I think one of them recently posted here) as there are males. And no they didn’t become extinct because almost all of us have some neanderthal blood in us. Sounds like you have found some real losers. My man treats me as an equal.

    • Michael

      Bravo!

      Heather’s got a brain. So rare on the internet.

      Excellent point about longevity. Something the medical community is only beginning to acknowledge.

      As for the nature of the Neanderthal, it is believed that they were much more quiet and peaceful than those that displaced them. But we won’t truly ever know.

    • Ken

      Good post. I noticed the indirect reference. I wonder if the person it is directed at will?

  • Kavalino

    Several women have written to him volunteering their husbands as subjects for study?!?!?! LOLOLOL -Oh yes… I do believe that I completely understand :-D

    • http://Glacial Heidelburgaster

      There was once a so called female group who long ago failed(they are not here any more). Just another tired rant about how peaceful females are etc etc blah blah. Had opportunity to see two females in action last week. Had it not been for three males they would have torn each other apart over some lame disagreement. So spare me and others the( I am women hear me roar ) in number to big to ignore cow pies) Your gender is no better and had it not been for the males of long ago,taking on and getting rid of competitors you would not be around to complain

      • womanism

        It’s woman (singular) and women (plural). No different than MAN and MEN. Women are no more progressive than men as we stand by and let the atrocities of the world take place and yes, many are obsessed with shopping and shiny pretty things rather than the conditions of women around the world. But for some reason, it’s the men that lead us in that direction of war, boxing, football, rape and violence against each other and especially women. Many times I have dreamed of a society that would not allow men and their violence to be included, but then I had an opportunity to work in an all female office. Yep, you probably guessed, it was not a utopian experience. However, we are all products of nature and even in nature the sexes serve different roles. If it weren’t for procreation and the programmed instinct to have sex, the sexes might never come together. And in many animals, that’s all the opposite sex has to offer each other.

  • Wendy

    I would like to read much more about the theory that Neanderthals were the early humans who lived to be hundreds of years old and that is why they have larger brains and bodies, for more years of human growth and development. That is took perhaps 40 years to even be an adult and then they lived to be 600-1000 years old. The Bible and other ancient writings record humans living to be these ancient years, before the Great Flood and the Ice Age and the earthly catasrtophic changes where the world went from a tropical paradise of hundreds of years of life to the harsh environments, lots of deaths, and much shorter life spans.

    It is purely human conjecture that early humans were not very intelligent, the idea of humans evolving from other more primitive life forms. But in fact, God created human beings “in his own image” from the first two, Adam and Eve. They were no less intelligent then anyone else. Neanderthals were not inferior in any way. They were probably smarter because they had larger brains and many more years to gain their wisdom and maturity. It is true though that without the accumulation of knowledge, history, and technology which we have today, they would have less to know at their disposal, but that doesn’t make their intuitiion less. After all, early humans built pyramids, and many kinds of advance cultures.

    Neanderthals went extinct in the sense that the earth, and God, no longer allows lifespans of hundreds of years. Therefore, human beings are not neanderthals because our bodies and minds cannot develop for hundreds of years. Our bodies and minds are designed to die at the maximum of 120 years in ideal conditions, and of course almost always less. That is why our DNA is different, but also why it is the same.

    I would love to see research done to see if those with more Neanderthal genes live longer then those with less. And also, if it can be determined how old Neanderthals were when they died in comparison with homo sapiens at the same time’s life span.

    • Bob Eckert

      Most of our Neanderthal skeletons are from those who died in their teens or twenties, but the Shanidar remains are from an “old” man who was probably past fifty.

      • Steve Johnson

        Forensic anthropologists, studying remodeled fractures on Neanderthal fossils, compared the type and number of fractures to job types of modern man. The match to the Neanderthal’s injury type and frequency was professional rodeo bull riders. One might surmise that hunting large animals with a thrusting spear was very dangerous, even with a heavier bone structure.

  • barys8

    Very interesting points. I don’t think this study is a clash between genders as it is more of a evolutionary and geneological path of human beings. Neanderthals no longer exist due to many reasons. Yes humans thrived but that could be due to partial luck as well. Violence and stupidity? Well that does seem to be an intrinsic characteristic we all possess. The point being is that let’s just enjoy the possible enlightening, and educational experience this article provided. :)

  • http://aol Dave

    If that photo is what a Neanderthal looked like …I have to say…no disrespect to the Neanderthals…but they look like many of the men of scandinavian – Finnish and Norweigen decent here in Minnesota today.

    • RosieRosebud

      You are mean! ;)
      Actually, I think he men in MN from your mntioned our true can be quite good looking, as are the women.
      That being said, the Neanderthal pictures certainly does have a face that only a mother could love.

      • Fletcher Christian

        As in MN, Neanderthal women were strong, and the men were good looking, and all of their descendents, are above average.

        • Karla

          Neanderthl was what? When they discovered the first skll they thought it was an ape. I guess apes can be good looking

        • Autumn

          Ha! Fellow PHC listener!

    • http://Nonerightnow Diane gersten

      I’m from Minnesota and figure we of Viking background should have a larger than average percentage of Ne DNA. My ancestors- females included- have a pretty aggressive lineage. The Irish story is that a firbolg or formoran race occupied the northern islands until the Tuatha de Danann came and did battle. Later they interbred to produce a “Celtic” type. A hardy practical inventive adventurous and surprisingly clever type.
      Consider the poetic talent needed to be a skald (court poet) and to produce the sagas of the Icelanders. Thus I’m pretty darn open-minded. Ne’s need a nickname. A nice one.

  • http://www.tburst.org tyf

    Women were the hunter/gatherers and men guarded the villages or cave like dwellings–impregnated women–and otherwise, were the “wise men” of the tribe of off spring. This is the genetic ability information:
    what’s physically real versus hypothesis. Women can walk/hike/sprint while carrying pack (food/shelter supplies) better than males unless it’s not been their foundational training to do so: a woman’s body is
    more entitled naturally for these kinds of activities. But the real argument lies with the expenditure of
    calories (measurements of heat) upon male ejaculation: if males do indeed expend about 300 calories
    per one ejaculatory event (each pop), they could not have prudently consumed enough food to do
    regular (frequent) ejaculation and do hunting/gathering activity too (the rate of expenditure would
    exceed the estimated 300 calories rate of digestion per each hour after consumption of food stuffs).
    Women historically are smaller by size: which means less food is necessary for optimal survival and
    lastly, women bear the child; if the men were physically more adept (stronger or more likely to survive),
    the men would be the child bearers. This does not go to say all modern women are as fit as any man:
    the fitness of any individual depends upon consistent long-term behavioral choices; most women these days have only trained for decline (causing gross atrophy) and/or are consistently making self-destructive behavioral choices overall… But then so are most modern men: the changes being observed about genetic value seem to be related to the consistent changes in behavioral patterns, specifically the introduction of meat eating and consumption of dairy products which occurred about the time people started into constant decline: people are not carnivores and eating meat causes blood chemistry contamination, protein deficiency, genetic mutation and death; milk was only intended to raise an infant to the stage of solid food and that was (once baby developed teeth) when it was supposed to end… Drinking cow/goat milk or the milk of any other species is a totally dysfunctional thing for anyone to do, despite what age.

    • curt mason

      Tyf, darling, neanderthals didn’t do veggies – they ate meat, when they could get it, and lots of it.

      • John Granacki

        People are most certainly carnivorous by nature! There are individual exceptions, obviously, but overall we haven’t been remotely vegetarian for eight to twelve million years.

        Alas (and not unlike vegetarianism) the consumption of dairy products by non-infants is a modern / post-stone-age aberration, and is probably more detrimental than beneficial — but how else are we going to make decent cocoa, latté and ice cream?

    • Wolf359

      I think your description better fits a pride of lions than present day or prehistoric man. Eating of meat is why we are still not swinging from trees. Most humans do not have the issues you describe (I have vegan relatives btw) and cannot live without the protein which beans and nuts cannot provide (well, unless of course they have insects inside them).

      By the way, if I could drink mothers milk daily I would…..unfortunately it isn’t as readily available after your children over 2 years old…. ;)

      • ron

        wolf, we kan easily live without meat, my wife has done it for over 40 years. Excessive protein intake will lead to an early death

    • Aman

      I doubt your 300 cal expenditure / ejaculation.
      I believe its closer to 45…

  • Steven Narbonne

    Hey! That’s MY high-school picture! How did they get that? Out of the year book? I didn’t give permission to use it…. although you must admit I was hot!

  • James Ssemakula

    Conventional wisdom has it that big brains should confer a survival advantage. Yet, the bigger-brained Neanderthals became extinct, while Homo sapiens survived.

    The author does not say whether Neanderthal brains were bigger than expected for their body size. Does anyone know or have a plot of brain weight vs bodysize that includes H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis (sp?)

    • Darly Kevil

      Homo sapiens-1300cc (roughly), Homo neanderthalensis 1250-1900cc

      Homo sapien brain to body ratio is around 1:40. Brain to body ratio does not necessarily accurately predict how intelligent an animal is. It is argued that Neanderthals generally had a larger cranial capacity due to the robustness of their skeletons. I am not trying to infer that Neanderthals were less intelligent than their Cro Magnon counterparts. Obviously this is still a highly debated subject within anthropology and much more investigation is needed. More and more evidence has been turning up to suggest that Neanderthals may have had language capabilities as well as their own artistic practices.

  • Lori

    My husband is…

    • Muliebrity

      Yes. So is mine . . .

  • Anne

    If homo sapiens have Neanderthal DNA, then it shows the Neaderthals didn’t “die out.” They were simply overwhelmed by the numbers of the homo sapiens they mated with. A few generations from now, there may be no more blue-eyed people. That won’t mean blue eyed people “died out”, but that brown eyed people they mated with were much more numerous. Their genetic code continues…

    • Lee

      good point

  • Raven

    Well since there is no DNA from a Neanderthal for comparison all of this is merely a guess.
    (as usual)

  • CharlesB

    Homo sapiens look better,

    • Marcus

      lol – homo sapiens look better to you, because you are a homo sapien. To a chimp, you probably look pretty ugly, and to a neanderthal that fella in the photo probably looks quite handsome!

  • Mario Guillermo Merino Alegre

    When I was in college one of the anthropology professors asked me whether or not I had any Basque ancestry. I told him I did, a lot, and he told me he could tell because of my facial features. Then he told me I had Neanderthal features, to which I answered “I know”. The whole classroom had a good laugh, including me. Since then I have been interested in the subject, and wonder exactly how much Neanderthal DNA many of us “modern humans” really have. Just a thought…

    • Mònica

      Photo, please!

  • http://Nonerightnow Diane gersten

    Followup comments: I have been working on an analysis of key elements in Norse mythology. The ice age is referenced as bringing disaster- ragnaroc (sp) says that the world was covered in ice. True, over 10,000 years ago. The effects would have been devastating to northern populations. If and when they migrated south they would encounter competition for scarce resources. However, they were amazing navigators and fishermen. But if aggressively seeking to occupy other tribal land, they may have been up against much larger populations with a higher birthrate; thus they might be way outnumbered. Consider this: look at the genetic soup! Whatever we think, it happened. And do we still consider cro-magnon to be the first of the homo-sapiens sapiens type? That’s a mere few thousand years ago.
    We Norse were terrified of what were called “mist-monsters” or niffelheim (sp). I noticed that their behavior similar to the biblical nephilim. I say they were one and same: the giants!

  • lauren callaway

    any cave in a storm?

  • Delmar Fairchild

    I would think that H sapien and H neandertalensis may have been the same species, just different locations producing differences in looks such as Chinese to European today. Thus H neandertalensis didn’t die out, their differences in looks were bred out.

  • Carole

    Actually they have sequenced the Neanderthal genome and that’s how they have given us Homo sapiens a percentage of Neanderthal DNA. Supposedly last month the theory that Neanderthals and Home Sapiens ever cooexisted has been challenged as they have stated that the Neanderthal bones found in Europe are much older than previously thought so it’s unlikely that Homo sapiens ever met Neanderthals. They say the accounting for the percentage of same DNA is prob due to evolving from the same ancestors in Africa.
    If that is true, then why do present day Africans have no Neanderthal DNA at all? This has not been explained so far.

  • Karla

    want to know what happened to Neanderthals, look to Europeon fairy tales, Who do you think the trolls under the bridge and under the mountains were.

  • Kat

    My grandfather looked very similar to the picture, blue eyes too. His mother was French and his father Austrian/Czec.

  • http://patriceayme.wordpress.com/ Patrice Ayme

    The explanation for the near disappearance of Neanderthals is here:
    http://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/why-did-neanderthals-disappear/
    It also explains, to a great extent, the extinction of many other species, through the exponential extinction mechanism.

  • Kelly

    My experience is women are just as aggressive and angry as men but they express it differently. My experience, and studies back me up, is women provoke men into attacking them then watch, with tears in their eyes, as their man is led away in handcuffs. This provocation can be physical, hitting the man until he strikes back, or verbal/emotional until the poor guy gives in and defends himself physically.

    I do not excuse the man using his fists. This is dangerous and inexcusable but I do say things are far from black and white.

    Men yell, women nag and backstab.

  • Shar

    I’m disappointed that my experience of reading this interesting article was thwarted 2 time by VERY annoying web page elements: 1) the sharing bar POPS up in the middle of my reading (the Twitter, FB, Google, Mail bar) and then when I 2) try to leave a comment I enter my name, press TAB and then the page NAVIGATES to the top of the page! So either you don’t want me to read this article on my desktop and you don’t want me to leave a comment or my whole experience only happened to allow you to update/upgrade your page for better USER FRIENDLY usage. Whew!

  • bunker

    Men’s dna may lie in the scrapheap again if we don’t watch out.

  • bunker

    Men’s dna may lie in the scrapheap again if we don’t watch out….

  • Lyuba Allenivna Marchenko

    LOL! I bet those DNA people would have fun with mine. Black Welsh and Ukrainian here. Neanderthal? That’s no surprise. I think a few of the people I work with come from Mars, Io, and other planets out there. ;)

  • Nano

    I believe that we were visited by an advanced civilization and a new and more highly evolved human was produced. We see evidence of such events in ancient drawings, the pyramids, etc. And even though they tried to bring the human race forward, we are still stuck in the fighting and war range and as a result this planet is way behind. So sad.

  • Shawn

    It’s an embarrasing fact that we homo sapiens have been cannibals for at least during 90% of our existence as a separate species. Considering that the Neanderthals were much less aggressive and our species’ inherent andpossibly fatal shortcoming to exaggerate differences and to discriminate against anything physical (as in this case – later as racial discrimination) or conceptual (tribal – later nationaity, belief system- later religion, etc. ad nauseam) it’s quite possible that our ancestors hunted them down as food source and that’s how they went extict.

  • David P. Graf

    I hope people realize that this “blog” is really a come-on for their genetic testing services. I find it embarrassing and unethical not to disclose that upfront. Shame on anyone who writes these so-called blogs.

    • ScottH

      David, This is called the “23andMe Blog.” And part of our mission is to highlight our service as we inform people about new and interesting breakthroughs in genetic science. I’m not sure how much more transparent you can be than that.

  • Marc Boone

    In place of the standard model of modern humans marching forth and exterminating our primate kin, I propose that our genes marched from Africa and out competed their neighbors without genocide.

    The first African hybrids in a Neanderthal clan would have been the smartest, most articulate, least likely to be stepped on by a mammoth, most likely to raise their children to maturity in the tribe. In a few generations much more genetically African members from that group of Neanderthals would have interbreed with neighboring tribes. The people with the best genes (African) would have prospered, where the pure Neanderthals had barely survived. The few Neanderthal genes we are left with are the superior ones.

    This can be tested by analyzing more of the bones from the hybridizing era. There should be a higher percentage of Neanderthal DNA in modern looking bones and a higher percentage of African DNA in Neanderthal looking bones.

  • johnpaul@georgeringlo.com
  • Marc Boone

    Could we, in principal, have deduced the introduction of other species DNA into the non-African gene pool by comparing the chromosomes from African people to non-Africans, without looking at old bones found in a cave?

  • willis

    I understand that life was over by age 20 for most people of that time, human and neanderthal, due to disease and injury. This means the average procreating human was a teenager. Also, fermented beverages appeared at about this time as well. It’s a wonder we don’t have traces of elephant DNA.

  • Marc Boone

    Average life span doesn’t preclude a few old folks surviving to teach the kids. Alcohol may have been consumed many thousands of years before we have detected it. Neanderthals may have also had it. Intentionally fermented alcohol might even predate humans.

    We will probably discover bits and pieces of DNA from unlikely sources (bugs, plants, bats) that were dragged in by viruses over the years, as detection improves.

    I’m curious about the new twists that might be revealed by studying the role of hybridization between species in the evolution of plants and animals.

  • Ann Pridemore

    This may well be just an advert for services, but the intelligence and lively debate on this blog gives me hope for the future. Read these messages- we’re talking some serious quantifying here. As for the disappearance of Neatherthals – I don’t think they left. They just adapted, intermingled, and evolved.
    And I’m pretty sure I eyeballed one shopping yesterday – serious chest hair and an extended mandible. And wearing Nikes. Now that’s evolution at its finest!

  • Joe

    My theory is neanderthal were as human as us. Basically a different race. That race was assimilated by modern man. If they were really different they couldn’t mate and produce fertile offspring, I.E. mules from horses and donkeys. By the way, I don’t buy evolution. (Think about it, if neanderthals were before us why did they have bigger brains, evolution says it works the other way).

  • Hawkeye

    why use Mel Brook’s picture as teaser for this post?

  • Marc Boone

    That is not the theory of evolution! Marmosets evolved from monkeys with bigger brains.

    Evolution is not progress or improvement; not good or bad and not “just happened”.

    Evolution merely says that whoever has the most offspring who live to reproduce will inherit the niche; until the next meteor strike, ice age or “Land ahoy!” changes the rules. Second place will be awarded a beautiful exhibit in the hall of also ran (Look mom, a stuffed dodo!).

  • http://aol.com TopView20

    Humans and neanderthals MAY have shacked up? Are you kidding? They banged together so much the two species fused into modern humans. I have absolutely no doubt that the neaderthals did not disappear at all. They became part of us. If scientist cannot prove this yet, they need to keep working. Everyone knows that we are still cavemen inside, and I am clearly a ground-walking upright ape. Stop pretending there is a mystery here. The problem only exists in our lack of proof, not our understanding of human and our ancestors. Use your brain (it’s half neandthal).

  • Comanche

    I don’t need a test. I have a uni-brow, wide noes and brow ridge.

  • Andrew Banks

    Thank you, but I’ve been to the family reunion. I know that there are Neanderthals in my family tree.

  • Marc Boone

    I’m sure someone else has already suggested it but the event that produced homosapiens, who overran the world practically overnight, might have been another hybridizing event, 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. Is there any way we could compare our DNA to the bones of some of the potential ancestors from that era?

  • divejoy

    They probably died out because they lacked a gene that could protect them from a sickness.

  • Marc Boone

    It is unusual for an entire species to get wiped out by illness. Anyway, there would still be remains of them, and their ancestors in caves and landslides.

  • AA

    This is shocking that so many people are wondering how Neanderthal were wiped out of the face of the earth? The more shocking is the wild guessing about the how the partial gene survived among us!
    The oldest history of modern day human told by Vedas, Bible and other fragmented tale tellers is full of violent conquests, rape and aggressive spread of genes. The simple gradient of skull features can be observed from north to south in Indian sub-continent, which is evident of genetic propagation by Arian people. Mongoloid skull and features gradient down from North –East-Asia to the shores of Black sea in the west tells another story of Mongol conquest, brutal killing of all male of ages between 6 and 60 and rape of women. Similar physiological evidence can be observed throughout world of recent genetic aggressions of modern day human.
    Probably the methods of modern day human remain the same as they used to be at the time of conquest of Neanderthal lands and the mare portion of gene we carry from them probably handed out to us by our fore-mothers.

    • Marc Boone

      I thought I read that most of our Neanderthal genes came from Neanderthal fathers.

  • ed biehl

    I can think of some college administrators and faculty members who came Neandethals

  • Maria O’Connor

    Neanderthals are alive in most of us. The probable reason why Neanderthals got extinct is alien illness. Most people except pure blood sub Saharan Africans have Neanderthal genes. This means that the mixed offspring’s of Neanderthal and Homo sapiens survived, because, they had antibody for both Neanderthal and Homo sapiens illness. Their parents died. Sub Saharans Africans never encounter a Neanderthal, so they did not get their illness.
    Probably the first mixture was Neanderthal female and Homo sapiens male and their daughters mixed with Homo sapiens, so we did not inherit mitochondrial DNA. However, we could find in the future a group of people with Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA? Last year a new indigenous tribe was discovered in the Amazon. There are people that live in isolated places that never venture to a city or town. The blonde hair of Melanesians is not related to European blonde hair and that is a new discovery.

  • Marc Boone

    No vast Homo sapiens conspiracy.

    There seems to be a propensity to portray the activities of our stone age forbearers in the same manner as Hernandez Cortes and Genghis Khan and to foist yet another guilt trip on their descendents, but we don’t know that the prehistoric world worked like that. We haven’t even straightened out the last ten to fifteen thousand years of history in the western hemisphere (where did Kennewick man come from?).

    The Neanderthals did not show a great deal of innovation or spread out very far into Eurasia over the course of half a million years. At least some of this conservatism must be due to their genetics. If a group of them interbred with Homo sapiens, then Homo sap genes would have started leaking into the Neanderthal gene pool. Any elements of Homo sapiens culture that was picked up, which required a bit more ingenuity (fish traps, small game snares, sharper tools, and perhaps better communication, allowing for larger communities), would have accelerated the process.

    None of this precludes murder, rape and plague; it simply makes them irrelevant. Once the new genes were introduced, if they gave their bearers an advantage, they would have spread inexorably and displaced the old DNA the same way that lactose tolerant genes replaced intolerant genes in livestock herding people.

    Neanderthals may not have been killed, driven out or eaten; they may have become modern people, one gene at a time. There could still be remnants of pre-Homo sapiens language, place names and culture surviving in the Neanderthal homeland, or carried into new areas, just as the Celtic counting system was carried into New England by sheppards who had assimilated it into their work culture.

    This scenario can be tested by analyzing old Homo sapiens remains in Europe, to see if the proportion of Neanderthal DNA is higher than today.

  • Alan M. Smith

    Pardon me if this point has already been made; how can one say that Neanderthals “died out” when it is being proven that Neanderthal genes are discovered in modern “cro-magnon” humans? It is obvious to this reader that they didn’t die out, only assimilated with a more dominant form. Isn’t this just a function of evolution? I love the idea that I might have neanderthal genes; who wouldn’t?

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