Know Your Primate: Neanderthal Follow Up

Last Week’s edition of Know Your Primate focussed on a Current Anthropology article by Erik Trinkaus. The paper asked whether Neanderthals or Anatomically Modern Humans were more derived. Science Daily has an article on it as well.

“I wanted to see to what extent Neandertals are derived, that is distinct, from the ancestral form. I also wanted to see the extent to which modern humans are derived relative to the ancestral form,” Trinkaus says. “What I came up with is that modern humans have about twice as many uniquely derived traits than do the Neandertals.
“In the broader sweep of human evolution,” says Trinkaus, “the more unusual group is not Neandertals, whom we tend to look at as strange, weird and unusual, but it’s us – Modern Humans.”
The most unusual characteristics throughout human anatomy occur in Modern Humans, argues Trinkaus. “If we want to better understand human evolution, we should be asking why Modern Humans are so unusual, not why the Neandertals are divergent. Modern Humans, for example, are the only people who lack brow ridges. We are the only ones who have seriously shortened faces. We are the only ones with very reduced internal nasal cavities. We also have a number of detailed features of the limb skeleton that are unique.”

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2 Responses

  1. This is an interesting twist on an old idea — “what makes us special”. While Trinkaus is implying — and I’ve read the relevant paper — that “modern” humans have more unique features than do Neandertals, my concern here is, that those who see this kind of “uniqueness” as some sort of pinnacle may twist these findings around to suit their own purposes, Trinkaus is really asking us to look at evolutionary processes. And not from “our” POV, but rather, in the sense of how these processes work, on humans as well as all other organisms.
    In this sense, the “place” of Neandertals in human evolution or anywhere else, for that matter, is less important that looking at the selection process — how an organism, or many organisms, get to where they are at any given point in evolutionary time. And also, it asks us to look at the forces that skew genetic changes over time. This should help us better understand these foces and how they work.
    Anne G

  2. ‘Tis true. Modern Humans are Mutant Freaks. If you doubt this, see James Randi, who once had a kinkajou as a familiar .

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