Friday Know Your Primates, Late Edition: Neanderthals

Today, I’m doing something a little different on Know Your Primate. Today we are having a surprise quiz! The quiz is in an essay format and only has one question.

Here is a picture of La Ferrassie 1
and here is a picture of Shanidar 1
Now here is the question. Below are two statements from an article by Trinkaus (Modern Human versus Neandertal Evolutionary Distinctiveness) published in the most recent issue of Current Anthropology (2006, 47(4):597-620)

Different sets of Neandertal versus modern human derived traits could of course be composed and some of these traits combined or subdivided, which would produce different totals of derived traits. It may therefore be possible not to reject the null hypothesis of less derived modern humans at the P = 0.05 level. However, it would be difficult, without distorting the fossil record unduly, to make modern humans less derived than the Neandertals or even approach the same number of uniquely derived characteristics.


When these data on probable trait polarities are combined and one appropriately uses the available data from the entire skeleton and dentition, it is not the Neandertals who appear unusual, special, derived, autapomorphous. It is we.

Write an essay supporting or defending the thesis.
For purposes of comparison here are several more pictures:
Mladec%201.jpg This is Mladec 1
Skhul_5.jpg This is Skhul 5
Both Mladec and Skhul were considered transitional by Wolpoff in his book Paleoanthropology.
Here is a picture of Cro Magnion 1
cromag1.jpg Which is, of course, Homo sapiens.
Here is another quote from the Trinkaus article to help you:

This minimal attention to the uniqueness of modern humanity should not be surprising in view of the general approach to human evolution, in which the evolutionary path to modern humanity is frequently taken as a given. However, it has tended to cast extinct human forms such as the Neandertals (or robust Australopithecus,
East Asian H. erectus, and others) in a deviant framework, leaving the evolutionary trajectory to modern humanity
unblemished with autapomorphies.

The entire article is quite fascinating. Trinkaus examines 75 cranial, mandibular, dental, axial and appendicular traits from a sample of Middle and Late Pleistocene hominids. The upshot is that Trinkaus found twice as many derived features in modern humans (relative to early and middle Pleistocene Homo than he found in Neandertals…

4 Responses

  1. Okay. Okay. It just so happens, I’ve read the Trinkaus(*not* Trinkhaus) journal article. Before I say anything else, I’d better note that it’s pretty “technical”. So I can’t really say — being a Starving Writer rather than a Neandertal expert, whether “modern” traits are more “derived” than Neandertal ones. What I *did* get out of Trinkaus’s piece was, that “moderns” and Neandertals had more in common anatomically, than they did not have.
    Having said that, I recognize that there *are* some very obvious differences between Neandertals and “moderns” which make them seem distinctive enough so that some people want to make them their own species. Again, I’m not going to argue directly with this judgment call. Because it’s true, the anatomical differences are visible, at least on the fossils. With some of the reconstructions I’ve seen, it’s somewhat more difficult to tell just what the “differences” are. And it’s even more difficult when you start factoring in what archaeologists have discovered re Neandertal and early “modern” behavioral patterns. Bottom line, I tend to see Neandertals and “moderns” as distinct *populations”, due in art to factors of genetic drift and partial isolation of the two groups, but I don’t see them as different *kinds* of human.
    Finally, it wouldn’t surprise me if “modern” humans really are more “derived” than Neandertals. After all, the adoption of agriculture and a more sedentary lifestyle, probably had a not inconsiderable influence on the kind of genes that either persisted into modern times, or the kind of genetic traits that got changed through small mutations.
    Anne G

  2. Yup, I have been fighting the extra “h” in his name ever since I first heard of him. As far as your larger points, I would add that Trinkaus (see no “h” this time) is also saying that we have spent a lot of time looking at what makes Neandertals different from anatomically modern humans (i. e. we are too caught up in traits that impact the Out-of Africa vs Multiregional continuity debate).

  3. It is we, us, that is indeed different. I have never considered the word “special” as it applies to modern man. Therefore, for me, the question I believe is still out there is: where did Cro-Magnon, modern man come from? I am certain that somewhere on the planet another sub species developed that ultimately became modern man. The theory that the Neandertals were wiped out by the modern humans “feels” right to me based on the ultimate development of modern humans into what has existed on this planet over 7000 years: barbarism everywhere. The bloodlust and cruelty that has been well documented for over 5000 years to this day, tells me, at least, clearly that modern humans, while having traits of previous primate lineage to whatever degree evolved differently.
    It would be highly interesting to see another view of history using Neandertals to present just to be able to see if they would be so blindly brillant, stupid, cruel and loving. In fact, I have often speculated that there is a nano percentage of modern man that descended with Neandertal genes which allowed for a higher evolutionary level than the rest.
    But, what do I know, I’m just an old broad that loves the subject but never got a chance to go to college and “dig in” so to speak. I’m awaiting the time when I can bravely say: beam me up Scotty.

  4. Ok if I understand this correctly we “moderns” are the weird ones(more special) and the Neanderthals are more similar to what they evolved from…I thought that was what scientists were talking about for the past (uh not good with time) so years, That we are more special and evolved in a way that we could take advantage of our environment better (or maybe cause the Neanderthals to go extinct). But I can see how this article is another way of looking at it cause there was the belief the Neanderthals were the weird ones I just thought everyone thought they were talking about in comparison to “moderns” and not the other hominids. Sorry not sure if that makes sense.

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