More Fun with Neanderthals

In another example of how fascinated we are with Neanderthals — our ancient human ancestors — last week the Colbert Report featured British paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer.

In a few minutes that were peppered with quips from Stephen Colbert, Stringer managed to explain a couple hundred thousand years of human evolution.

His book, Lone Survivor, How We Became the Only Humans on Earth, uses both archeological evidence and genetic evidence to make the case that long ago several distinct human species coexisted — Neanderthals, Denisovans, Homo erectus and Homo floresiensis — but in the end only one, homo sapiens survived. Stringer points out that many of these early humans apparently mixed with modern humans and we find some of their DNA in us today.

Although Neanderthals disappeared long ago, their DNA continues to live on in all non-African people. It may be that the DNA of other prehistoric human groups are also 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 — was found in a cave in Siberia, showed that Denisovans were cousins of Neanderthals, who lived in Asia and disappeared about 40,000 years ago. Their DNA is found today in Melanasians.

As for Neanderthals, 23andMe launched our popular Neanderthal Lab about a year ago. It allows customers to determine what percentage of their DNA is Neanderthal. A typical range is between 1 percent and 4 percent with the average being about 2.5 percent, but there are outliers, who have much more.

Check out these posts about Neanderthals and Modern Humans:
Did Humans and Neanderthals Have Sex?
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!


  • Dave Lunt

    “Neanderthals — our ancient human ancestors”, Neanderthals aren’t our ancestors, thats just incorrect. OK, well technically you could argue that they are the ancestors of 2.5% of the human genome via interbreeding, but thats not really what you meant in this introduction is it?!

  • joe nihau

    so if we have neanderthal dna, even if it is a minority of the count, then it is relatively as valid to say we neanderthals did not die out, we just interbred with africans, as it is to say we came out of africa and bred with some neanderthals. the out of africa hypothesis as a platform for absolutists is shattered by the proof of the prevalence of neanderthal dna in non-africans. further,, the physical differences between africans and non-africans must be considered as potentially a manifestation of the contribution from the neanderthal genomic heritage.

    • Keith Bosh

      Neanderthal DNA definitely makes us somewhat different, but I’d say the environment had more of an impact. Lighter skin is due to darker skin being unable to synthesize vitamins with less sunlight, for instance.

  • Neanderthal Bob

    My 23andMe report says what percentage of Neanderthal I am and what percentile it is of people with Northern European ancestry. But how does that compare with people from other regions? For instance, do people from Southern Europe have more or less Neanderthal DNA? Is there a percentile chart for all Europeans, or all Anglos? I’d like to know before I buy the T-Shirt :-)

    • ScottH

      Neanderthal Bob,
      Thanks for the comment. To answer your question, most people in Europe have a similar percentage of Neanderthal DNA, between 1 and 4%, with a mean of 2.5%. We do not have a chart comparing people from different ancestry however.

  • Marc Boone

    It would be reasonable to assume that for every species only known by one finger bone, that there could be a hundred other ones that we interbred with, which aren’t recognized because we haven’t found their remains. Is there any way to spot exotic DNA without having to match it with old bones?

  • Marc Boone

    Is the Neanderthal DNA scattered randomly threw our genome, or is it concentrated in the same spots for all non Africans? Is it possible that we once had more Neanderthal genes but it was lost because most of it was inferior to African genes for survival?

  • Marc Boone

    The ratio of X and Y chromosomes would give some indication of peaceful interbreeding or conquest.

    • homer

      except for one theory that a neanderthal woman could easily birth a homosapien baby but a homosapien woman would more likely die in childbirth due to larger neanderthal baby head size and smaller birth canal

  • Marc Boone

    Some of the evidence for the Multiregional Hypothesis could also be explained by different primate species hybridizing. We know some monkey species will hybridize; we know we hybridized. There used to be far more primate species than today. Why wouldn’t they have been interbreeding too? Evan though most hybrids are failures, if a local species had evolved a solution to a problem (malaria, or low vitamin D from lack of sunlight), the hybrid from this species and a new one, migrating in, might have had an advantage over its pure blooded relatives.

    This may have happened dozens, even hundreds of times. Our family tree might look more like a 3D relay race, and some indigenous people may be more indigenous than they realized.

  • Ruben

    What influence has the Neanderthal DNA on our physical and maybe mental being?
    You say that (most) Africans don’t have this DNA.
    Are they different because of this difference in DNA.. I find it very strange that Europeans and Asians have the highest amount of this foreign DNA and are at the same time much more developed culturally and left the tribalism lifestyle a long time ago.

    Asian tend to have the highest amount of Neanderthal DNA and have (a lot of people agree on this one) the highest iq.

    Maybe what i’m saying is totally nonsense, but I want this question answered with sincerity, and not with multiculturalistic propoganda.

  • Keith Bosh

    I’m curious as to how high a percentage of Neanderthal DNA these outliers have… anyone?

  • Natalie ._c-

    Ruben, the IQ test is not a very good indicator of intelligence since it depends heavily on the environment, including nutritional status, in which the child grew up. And even then, it is by no means agreed that Asians have the highest IQ. And even if they did, they have not contributed any more to the intellectual and technological development of the human race than numerous other groups. So this question is pretty much a strawman — there are better things to concentrate your mind-power on.

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