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Health

50 million Neandertals (genetically)

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanMay 6, 2010 9:50 PM

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John Hawks has a very long post up. This part caught my attention:

We don't really know the answers, but now we have a chance to test hypotheses about ancient population size and expansion in Neandertals. My point at the moment is only this: If today Neandertal genes make up only one percent of the gene pool of the 5 billion people outside Africa, that's the genetic equivalent of 50 million Neandertals.

As Hawks notes later, this paper comes pretty close to resolving whether Neandertals were of the same species as we moderns, at least using the biological species concept. There were fertile hybrids. That should not be too surprising, a few years ago when the Neandertal introgression story was big I looked into mammalian embryology, and our lineage had to be very special as mammals went for their to be inter-population sterility. This is not just a science story. Dave Chamberlain observes:

Anyone else notice that the artists depictions of neanderthals have slowly changed from stupid brute monkey men to ruggedly handsome moderns with a protruding brow? Hmmm, I bet they get even more good looking now. Hawks promises all neanderthals all the time, I for one can’t get enough of it.

I think that this will change our perceptions, and "artists' renderings" quite a bit. A few years ago when it seemed that Neandertals may have been highly depigmented I observed that it was a bit strange that in most depictions they tended to be rather dark and swarthy as Europeans go (most famously in Jean Auel's work the H. sapiens sapiens were Aryan Übermensch while the Neandertals were small and dark). I think some of the same subconscious dynamic was at play as when Tom Coburn was outraged at the TV nudity of Schindler's List. Coloured people naked on a National Geographic special is one thing, but white people should be decent! (and please, don't accuse me of seeing racism where it isn't. If you know me you know that I'm not super-obsessed with that sort of thing, but I think it's pretty obvious that there's a lot of implicit assumptions which go into being a white European, and how one views someone and how they should behave)

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