Redheaded Neanderlady

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

Friday, February 13, 2009

Neandertals, Neandertals, Neandertals!

There has been so much news about Neandertals lately, I really don't know where to begin.  Most of it has been about the draft of a publication of the genome of Neandertals from Vindija, Croatia.  This particular piece is one of the more sensible assessments, and there is also a related piece by the same author that suggests the possibility Neandertals had an artistic bent.  As the author points out , there isn't any evidence that they painted on cave walls, like "modern" humans did at Chauvet Cave or later, at Lascaux or Altamira.  On the other hand, some workers have suggested that Neandertals did, in fact, paint Chauvet Cave.  Few people agree with this, but there's always the possibility. 

 

And oh, the discussions that have been going on!  Over at Anna's Bones, there's been an ongoing "did they or didn't they" discussion, generated in part by this latest announcement about Neandertal DNA.  The claims about "interbreeding or not" rely very heavily on the apparent lack of identifiable "Neandertal genes" in some "modern" human populations.  On the other hand, one has to bear in mind that human populations anywhere, 30,000 years ago, were probably relatively small and scattered.  This applies to "us" as well as Neandertals.  But one also has to bear in mind that Neandertal populations were even smaller and perhaps more scattered, than "modern" ones.  Therefore, there wasn't a whole lot of opportunity, most of the time, for them to meet and mix it up.  There is some evidence, however, that some populations, notably in the Iberian Peninsula, did, in fact, exchange genes from time to time, if the Lagar Velho child is any indication. The Lagar Velho fossil is dated to a period after Neandertals had apparently ceased to exist, but also apparently, the child seems to have some physical characteristics associated with that population, though it is considered to be a "modern" human.  This suggests that, in the Iberian Peninsula, the people there were pretty "mixed".  Finally, you have to bear in mind that even after there were no more Neandertals, Paleolithic populations were still pretty small, as "forager" societies often tend to be.  Once farming began to spread, populations that farmed had some leeway to get larger, and it's possible that the remaining "forager" humans were simply swamped or absorbed into the larger farming populations, just as Neandertals in certain areas, may have been similarly "swamped" genetically speaking, thousands of years earlier.  This, the possibility of finding genuine "Neandertal genes is probably vanishingly small. 

 

Finally, I give. for your consideration this Ode to Neanderthal 1, courtesy of the very interesting blog Caveman's Corner.  I think it is a fitting tribute to these fascinating prehistoric people, about whom we still know very little, and who, I think are often still essentially misunderstood.

Anne G

6 comments:

Chauvetian said...

The Nat Geo article was full of mistakes, such as a naked female hunter in the subarctic wielding a slim javelin to thrust, when it is a projectile missile. Neanderthals used short thick spears that required very close contact and large muscles. They could not have survived without fur wraps. Most females were pregnant most of the time, since they had no broadleaf trees to provide contraception and probably did not understand how babies were made. That happened c 32,000 BC, which caused a flourescence of genital art in cartoon forms throughout southern France. Over 200,000 years, the Neanderthals established the first world culture, which was continued by the post-Neanderthals. Renanalysis of Cro-Magnons (also redated) found them to bear Neanderthaloid traits, as did the earlier Mladecs. These so-called early moderns weren't very modern. A synonymous term might be high-grade archaic or Neanderthaloid. Yet those 2 terms are not synonymous. See Fred Smith on his Assimilation Theory, which probably under-estimates crossbreeding between countless indigenous grades over 200,000 years plus 4 entry points into Europe for gene drift.

Anne Gilbert said...

I would agree with you that the naked female hunter(plus her "hairstyle") was quite silly. However, I don't know if "most females were pregnant most of the time", because,for all we know, they may have nursed their children for long periods of time,thus "spacing" them. While extended nursing doesn't guarantee contraceptive qualities in all women, it happens enough of the time so that it could have been a common practice. Also, if Neandertals were ignorant of contraception, I think probably early "moderns" were, too. The same can probably be said of the idea of "not knowing where babies came from. It is most likely that, at the very least, they knew that it takes a male and a female. OTOH, I think you are probably correct that early "moderns" weren't all that "modern"; the kind of gracility we have today came into being about the time people adopted aqriculture, and that was long after there were any Neandertals. Finally, I am quite familiar with the writings of Fred Smith and David Frayer(among others),who argue that there is evidence of interbreeding between Neandertals and early "moderns", whether at Mladec or elsewhere. The two groups were probably much closer genetically and physically,than (some) geneticists want you to believe, and it is these hints and indications that form the bedrock of my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals(as well as other writing projects that have been put aside for awhile).
Anne G

Chauvetian said...

Chauvetian replies: Modern-day breastfeeding is contraceptive, but it has a 20% failure rate. It requires round-the-clock nursing for greatest efficiency. Winters were too harsh in the Ice Age, with temperatures of 20 and 30 below measured by glacial probes, so that mothers could not nurse their babies continuously. They broke the breastfeeding contraceptive formula by pounding out a paste (baby food) in between allowable feedings, when the babies lips would not freeze to the mother's milk. That grindstone paste is still in use as emergency food in poverty cultures when starvation threatens. You may even have seen children eating it on CNN. This suggests that the Neanderthals may have had had more births per mother than mothers in warmer zones. They had slightly wider pelvic apertures, that is, in some grades of Neanderthal, since of the fossils from 500+ individuals recovered with Neand-erthal/Neanderthaloid traits, they were more diverse than humans are today, as John Hawks writes in his extremely knowledgable blog.

Anne Gilbert said...

Chauvetian:

You are getting into some really, really speculative territory here, which I consider basically unscientific. Babies after a certain age(when they essentially sleep through the night, at about 6 weeks) do not require "round the clock" nursing. What happens in most "traditional" cultures is "nursing on demand", which is less often than you might think. Furthermore, I think you overestimate the "chill factor" in the Paleolithic; body heat, plus some kind of clothing -- which Neandertals seem to have had, if the abundance of "scraper" tools are any indication -- plus sleepinig near fires(and there's plenty of evidence for that,too), would probably keep children and mothers warm enough, even in the depths of a Paleolithic winter. Finally, contrary to your belief that mothers in "colder" areas(such as that the Neandertals lived in), have higher birth rates, the opposite is generally true, even in widely-spread nonhuman species like wolves and bears. The reasons for this have as much to do with the available food supply as anything else; until recently, when global warming "messed things up" in the area, the polar bears in the Churchill,Manitoba area tended to have more cubs than their more northerly counterparts. The reason? It was just enough warmer so that the food supply for them was abundant and reliable, sometimes supplemented, if the bears could get away with it, by human leavings of various kinds. As I said, the same is true of other organisms besides these bears, and seems to have been true of Neandertals as well, as they seem to have been a very small, scattered population. Bottom line: it's nice to have unorthodox ideas, but when you start speculating about things like how Neandertals and early "moderns" fed their children, or by what means they controlled birhts, if they did, you are getting into something for which there is no actual proof, nor is there any way of finding out whether these speculations have any validity or not.
Anne G

Chauvetian said...

Chauvetian answers: The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution has something relevant to say about Paleolithic contraception. It offers a reason why Coon found that Caucasoids (as the Neanderthals principally were in their 200,000-year culture that spanned 3500 miles) by 1950 represented more than 60% of the world's population. Disease is rampant throughout SE Asia and much of Africa today; their maternity wards were in even worse shape in the past. The subarctic winters at 20 and 30 below hosted fewer pathogens. Africans remain the least Neanderthaloid people; East Asians never had many.

Anne Gilbert said...

Chauvetian:

If you want to keep arguing something like this, you can go ahead, but you'd better start offering something that has more scientific validity than this bit you've offered about SE Asian and African maternity wards. First, many women in developing countries, especially Africa, have no access to contraceptives, let alone any maternity wards. Yeah, there's a lot of preventable disease in those countries, but it has very little to do with all the pathogens floating around, and a great deal to do with lack of sanitary conditions in which to give birth. Winters were prettyp cold during the so-called "Little Ice Age" of Europe, too,and the populartion plunged or stayed static. Your claims are pretty much "bass-ackward" scientifically. As for using Carleton Coon as a "reference", don't! Nobody in the paleoanthropology or biological anthropology world takes him seriously these days, and nobody there has, for a long, long time.
Anne G