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