Redheaded Neanderlady

Redheaded Neanderlady
This is a photoshopped version of something I found in National Geographic about the time I started researching

Friday, June 27, 2008

Neandertals hybridized themselves out of existence? Yeah, maybe

Today, on a blog called Remote Central, I just came across a blog entry called "Human Evolution on Trial --- Neandertals", or something quite similar. You can read it all here. It's quite interesting, really, because the blogger seems to conclude that Neandertals hybridized themselves out of existence. Which may well be true. There doesn't seem to be any evidence of some innate "modern" superiority, nor does there seem to be any evidence that the two groups(assuming, for the sake of argument that they were, in fact, two separate species), that they had drifted apart, evolutionarily speaking, to not be, as geneticists put it, "interfertile". Which just means they could have offspring and their offspring could have offspring. There may be fossil evidence of this, though, like just about everything else concerning Neandertals, this is contested. And there's certainly no evidence that disease or mass estermination took place. Neither "modern" humans nor Neandertals, at the time they coexisted, seem to have lived in large enough groups for diseases to spread easily. And "moderns" didn't have a sufficently "superior" technology to exterminate them. Who knows? Maybe there's a little Neandertal in you, and you, and you, so to speak. I would like to thinks so(at least regarding some papulations.

In any case, this is (partly) an underlying theme in my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals, though some may find this idea to be pure "fantasy". And this is why I recommend reading this blog. Or, for that matter, read the blogger's whole series. You can learn about human evolution, should you desire to do so, quickly, easily, painlessly, and be entertained at the same time. What more can anyone ask?
Anne G


Michael Balter said...

Interesting post, Anne. Actually, although it may seem very unlikely that this could be the case, there is actually no solid evidence that both Neandertals and modern humans were in the same place at the same time--even if in a very few sites, such as Arcy-sur-Cure in France, there is evidence that they occupied the same place at different points in time. As I say, given the overlap between the two groups in Europe(which could be as much as 15,000 years if recent claims and dating from Gibraltar are correct), it seems unlikely that they would not have met. But the nature of that encounter remains a mystery to frustration of all of us!

Anne Gilbert said...


I was actually thinking more along the lines of "there were a bunch of little groups scattered around the general area, all of whom were interacting in some way with one another". They did not have to all be exactly at Arcy-sur-Cure or any other Neandertal site, for "hybridization" to take place. They just had to be in roughly the same area.

However, your point is well-taken. We are dealing here with spans of thousands of years, during which time something happened so that Neandertals disappeared, at least as a distinct type of human. The only thing we can be sure of is, that we don't knwo what happened, and we don't know how it happened, though this doesn't stop people from making all kinds of educated guesses.
Anne G

Anne Gilbert said...

I forgot to add, that Neandertals seem to have been a rather small population, compared to the contemporary "moderns", though there is no way to be entirely sure of this. The "modern" populations of that time weren't all that large, either. But the very smallness of the Neandertal populations, and the fact that they seem to have been scattered thinly over a very wide landscape makes such a scenariou more likely than it might be under other circumstances.
anne G

Bee said...

It seems to me that if Neandertals and modern humans shared Europe at the same time at all, they would have had some interactions, even given small populations. Neanderthals may not have been great travellers, but they surely would have gathered food along the coasts at some time of the year, and would have followed game when necessary.

We know that humans were travellers, explorers, traders, and curious. Even if Neanderthals sat at home, Europe is not so large, even for foot traffic, that humans wouldn't have encountered signs of them at least, and gone on to find the people themselves. I believe there is some evidence of technology crossover in terme of tools.

It would be nice if someone could find something like a Neanderthal tooth preserved in amber or encased in limestone, so that it might be possible to perform DNA sequencing less susceptible to doubts about modern human contamination. That might be enlightening.

And somewhat on topic, if fictional, I have been trying to remember/find a short story I read likely more than forty years ago, and you, Anne, may be the very person that might know what I'm talking about. I thought it might be a Clifford Simak or Philip K. Dick story, but a thorough search of their bibliography hasn't rung any bells.

The story was likely written in the forties, and concerns a character described pretty much as a Neanderthal might be, although the author probably meant a generic Early Caveman. The character is accepted as human, if ugly, has a squalid but cheerful life as (I think) a rag and bone man, and owns a Hat which he treasures greatly. The Hat is revealed to be some sort of powerful shamanic head-dress passed on from the character's ancestors for millenia.

Any ideas? I'd be grateful if someone remembers it, tahnks!


Anne Gilbert said...


The only story I know about Neandertals from the "classic science fiction period" that I know of(though there are others, I think), that deals with Neandertals in a "positive" way, is Isaac Asimov's The Ugly Little Boy. But it's about a laboratory that invents a time machine and brings a four year old Neandertal boy back to "the present", and what happens when he and his teacher begin to bond. I'm not familiar with the story you describe, but I'll keep my eye open for it. And if anybody else out there has read that story and remembers the author and title, maybe they could inform us all.

Anyway, you're right, Bee. Neandertals and "modern" humans seem to have had quite similar behavior patters, and there are beginning to be some intriguiong bits of evidence here and there that they might have been better "travelers" than many people seem to imagine. If they didn't "travel" to some extent, how on earth would they have spread from Germany in the north to Israel in the south, and how on earth would they have been spread from England in the west nearly(apparently) to the border of China in the east? And who knows what or who they may have encountered on their travels, in the right period? The problem is, there is so much we absolutely don't know about humans of any kind during the period in question, that I think it's impossible to say much other than that, whether "modern" or Neandertal or something else, the groups in question were fairly small in size, and often widely scattered. They seem to have had similar behaviors and responses to their respective environments, but beyond that, nothing much can truly be known.
Anne G

terryt said...

"You can learn about human evolution, should you desire to do so, quickly, easily, painlessly, and be entertained at the same time". Thanks very much for that Anne. My aim has been exactly that.

I think you sum up my feelings on the situatio0n regarding Neanderthals with your comment, "there were a bunch of little groups scattered around the general area, all of whom were interacting in some way with one another".

And I've said elsewhere I really like your picture of the Redhaired Neanderlady. I'm presuming it's not a photograph of you though. I believe that's pretty close to what they would have looked like, not tremendously different to modern Europeans.

Anne Gilbert said...


The problem with a lot of what we know, or think we know, about prehistoric humans of all kinds, is that all we have is fossils, and a little bit of DNA. The "Neandertal" DNA and "modern" DNA seem to differ significantly. Many people interpret this to mean that Neandertals were quite "different" from "modern" humans, and therefore there was no real possibility of exchanging genes. And the problem with that is, that there seems to be an increasing body of evidence, that Neandertal behaviorsappear to have been very similar to "modern" ones. And there is someevidence that there were exchanges of genes; there appears to have been what geneticists call "introgression"(genes from one species of organism appearing in the DNA of others). If this is the case, there would have had to be at least some genetic exchanges going on. It is possible, too, that for a while, places like th e Iberian Peninsula functioned as "hybrid zones" where the two populations did exchange genes. It's also possible that if Neandertals were a very small population, they could simply have been "overwhelmed" by the incoming AMH population. I'm hadrdly the only person to be making this suggestion. In any case, the premise of my WIP, re your remark about the "redheaded Neanderlady", is that they did behave in ways that were identical or nearly identical to "modern" humans(with a few "science fiction twists"), and they would not have "stood out" that much in a crowd, so to sopeak. In my WIP, people tend to notice their noses more than anything else, but then, one of my "science ficiton twists" is, that they have ways of making people not notice things like browridges. Unless they want them to be noticed.
Anne G

terryt said...

"people tend to notice their noses more than anything else". I've known people from Europe with what I consider to be very large noses. "places like the Iberian Peninsula functioned as 'hybrid zones'". Not necessarily only there. We know Neanderthals and moderns changed places in the Middle East for 50,000 years. Jokes about Jews frequently involve comments about large noses.

And East Central Europe certainly exhibits evidence for hybrid culture, and any gene exchange there would by now be spread widely. We would be unlikely now to be able to identify the individual genes involved.

By the way. In response to the post on cultural evolution at anthropology I was inspired to reread my essay "Culture". Have you looked at it? It holds up well. In fact I'm rather proud of it.

I'm about to put another chapter up at remotecentral. I call it "Evolution". Seems that this is primarily a writers' forum so I wondered if you'd like a quick read before we put it up. Especially offer any suggestions for improvement. If you're prepared to participate I'll email you a copy. Hopefully I'll be able to return the favour in some way at some time.

And I've finally got it into my head it is actually "Redheaded Neanderlady".

Anne Gilbert said...


Oh, I know there were probably a number of "hybrid zones" in Western Eurasia, between Neandertals and "modern" humans. Eastern Europe is often considered to be one of them. I've seen pictures of the "modern" skulls from Mladec, Czech Republic(or is it Moravia?), and some of them seem to have "Neandertalish" characteristics. As far as "jokes about Jews and thier big noses" go, bear in mind that Israel and the surrounding area has had all sorts of people passing through there for literally millenia. Siince Arabs are often cartooned with big noses, and Jews and Arabs apparently have a common origin, who knows? Maybe Neandertals were part of that, too! Anyway, I think there were times and places where these things happened, regardless of what our "genetics" appear to show.

As far as Remote Central is concerned, if you want to send me a copy of your "Evolution" essay, please feel free. I will have a look at it, and help you in any way I can(I've been doing fiction critiques, but much of this is a matter of editing and word changing for more effective writing and clarity). Finally, I can't recall lookiing at your "Culture" essay, but I'd be glad to read it, if you would send the URL. Though my writing has a kind of "Harry Potterish" aspect to it, in some ways, I'm really interested in these issues, and I'd be more than happy to read it.
Anne G

terryt said...

Those Harry Potter books are hard to put down, aren't they? I'll get onto the other matters over the next few days. In a huury at the moment.

terryt said...

Here's culture:

What's the best way to send evolution? Maybe via your email? Can I access that via your blog?

Anne Gilbert said...


To answer both your posts at once:

Thanks for the Remote Central link. I'll definitely have a look at that. And the Evolution essay, yes, I would still like to read it. Probably the best way to communicate it to me, so to speak, would be to send it through my e-mail. You can contact me at:

if you want to send it that way. I'm not sure about 'accessing it via my blog" because although I've been blogging for about a year, I don't know all the ins and outs yet.

I'm always glad to help in any way I can,
Anne G

terryt said...

Thanks Anne. I'll get onto it and send it via your email. Things work slowly in my part of the world though (my very small patch of it anyway) so it could be a few days. Expect it when you see it.