August 14, 2010

This blog is about 1% to 4% Neanderthal

That is the conclusion of a paper written by Green, Krause, Briggs et al. and provided online here. Its based on the analysis of bone tissue from Croatia of Neanderthals and a comparison of that to current human being genetic material. The authors argue that there is a common element to these genetic tissues. I'm going to issue a disclaimer here- this science is definitely beyond my pay grade and I don't know how strong the author's conclusions are, based as they are on three Neanderthal individuals and five human individuals. It may be that their work needs further support from other research before it can be accepted: I don't know and am not going to pretend to do so.

Such a finding would be interesting though. It would make the early history of human beings and their relations even more interesting than it was before. It also is a real sign of how easily an immigrant population can influence a current population: Neanderthals may account for up to a twenty fifth of the modern genome and yet the authors hypothesize this is a low proportion. Such a finding suggests that genes spread easily and quickly through populations and therefore that one of the consequences of the modern world may be an increasing genetic homogeneity within human beings.

The most fascinating area for me, given the work of people like Raymond Tallis who work on the meaning of the boundary between human and animal worlds, is what this research means for the evolution of consciousness and its current path. Tallis argues that there is a binary switch, you are conscious and a human or you are irrational and an animal, you point and are a human, you don't and are an animal. This piece of evidence though seems to me to be evidence that whatever happened to produce homo sapiens was gradual, as we had relationships with other hominids during our evolution, and that calls into question any binary division between us and the animal world. Or does it? Afterall the Neanderthals may have been on our side of the boundary.

That question arises to my mind currently because I recently heard Tallis talk: however this research points in all sorts of directions and is worth therefore analysing. I don't know if its the last word, but its an interesting debate.