The Fate of the Neanderthals

Very recently there has been some very exciting news about the fate of the Neanderthals. Seems about 4% of the Human Genome is made up of Neanderthal genes. This means that in the past, modern Humans, also called Homo sapiens, or sometimes Cro-Magnons, interbreed with Neanderthals and produced fertile offspring. Since different species generally may breed, but not produce fertile offspring, this means that Neanderthals should now not be consider a separate species at all.

However, this interbreeding does not explain what happened to the Neanderthals as a group. The Neanderthals, as a sub-species, went extinct about 30,000 years ago after having thrived some 300 hundred thousand years in Europe. There are many ideas, often called the Neanderthal extinction hypotheses, which try and answer that very question. Early Modern Humans moved out of Africa and entered the Neanderthal’s range about 80 to 90 thousand years ago. The two species co-existed for some 50,000 years before the Neanderthals finally disappeared completely.

Even before the recent discovery interbreeding had been one of the hypotheses; many scientists thought that Neanderthals were a sub-species of humans and that they could have interbred with modern humans. This is now apparently proved true.

But interbreeding is not the only theory as to the ultimate fate of the Neanderthals.

The Rapid Extinction theory states that the relatively short duration of overlap between the two human sub-species supports a “rapid extinction” scenario. Biologist and writer Jared Diamond puts forward the idea of clash between the two species that the Neanderthals ultimately lost. Diamond also hypothesizes that a disease could have transferred from Modern Humans to Neanderthals and the Neanderthals succumbed because they had no natural immunity to this new infection.

Another the next theory is that Modern Humans had some kind competitive advantage over Neanderthals when it came to hunting and reproduction, such as a clear division of labor between men and women. Some studies show that Modern Humans had better weapons with which to hunt. Seems the Cro-Magnons had enhanced hunting ability and were better fed. One study shows that if Homo sapiens had just one more child per couple that survived to reproduce that that alone would overwhelm the Neanderthal population.

In 2009 an anthropologist announced that it that at least in one case a Neanderthals was killed and eaten by Cro-Magnons and then the teeth was worn as a necklace. This is based on the discovery of a single Neanderthal jawbone that seems to have been cut and skinned like food and its teeth had been manually removed.

Of course, it could have been any one or more than one of these theories that could have caused the final extinction of the Neanderthals.

Sources:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703686304575228380902037988.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/05/science/05nean.html?_r=1

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/may/17/neanderthals-cannibalism-anthropological-sciences-journal

Jared Diamond, The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal, Harper Perennial, 2001.

The Fate of the Lost Tribes of Israel

After the breakup of the Davidic Kingdom following the death of King Solomon, the ten northern tribes split from the two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin. In 722 BC, the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom and dispersed its population; “In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and he carried them away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of Medes.” 2 Kings 17:6

Thus the ten Northern tribes disappeared from the Bible and also from history. The fate of the so-called ten Lost Tribes of Israel has been one of history’s enduring mysteries. Many groups have claimed descent from these lost tribes, but chances are that most of the ancient Israelites simply intermarried with and disappeared as a distinct people into the local populations.

The problem with solving this mystery has been tracking a particular people back through time has until recently been impossible, claims of descent had to be ‘proved’ through cultural practices or linguistics. Take for example the Pathans, who live in the Hindu Kush and who claim descent from Kish, a mythical ancestor of King Saul. Some Pathans also claim descent from the Lost Tribes. Their “proof” are some cultural practices, for example, the Pathans circumcision their male children on the eighth day after birth, they light candles on Friday nights and have some food taboos that are similar to Kosher food rules. Of course, circumcision and the food rules could be and are most likely related to Islam, not any Israelite ancestors.

Today DNA testing or mapping is letting historians, with the aid of geneticists,  trace human ancestry. DNA testing has led to some interesting discoveries. A 1996 study of the Lemba tribe in Africa suggested that more than half of the Lemba male Y chromosomes are Semitic in origin. An additional study conducted in 2000 showed specifically that a large number of Lemba men carry a particular Y chromosome haplotype known as the Cohen Modal Haplotype or CMH. The Cohen Modal Haplotype is a genetic marker closely, but not solely, associated with the Jewish priestly caste of the kohen, also called Cohen, kohanim or cohanim.

While this study may connect the Lemba with Semites and possible with Middle Eastern Jew, it cannot prove it absolutely. A genetic study cannot assert when the Lemba either broke off of the mainstream Semitic genetic stream, or possibly when the CMH might have been introduced into the Lemba male line. After all, the haplotype could have been introduced by interbreeding rather than by migration from ancient Israel. Certainly, this evidence is the strongest available to ‘solve’ the mystery of the lost tribes. It is beyond the ability of modern science to prove any descent of any group from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.

How Neanderthals Lived

Neanderthals (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) lived in Ice-Age Europe between 350,000 and 30,000 years ago. Neanderthals are considered a sub-species of humans and now that we know that modern humans share about 4% of our DNA with Neanderthals the the sub-species or ‘breed’ argument is very strong.

The Neanderthals lived in small tribes of clan groups of 20 or so individuals. Most likely these groups were extended family groups and generally isolated from other clans. The Neanderthals made a living by hunting and gathering. Based on findings of bones there appears to have been a division of labor among the members of the groups, with the adult males hunting large game animals such as bison, elk and even mammoths. Meanwhile the juveniles and females would gather edible plants or scavenge from already dead animals.

Based on the injury pattern found in Neanderthal remains, the hunting males would have come in close contact with large animals. It seems they lacked projectile weapons and would have to get close to the animal to thrust spears into it, or perhaps even wrestled the prey to the ground before killing it. Meat in some form made up about 80 percent of the Neanderthal diet.

The Neanderthals had fire. They had a fairly advanced ‘toolkit’ of stone, bone or maybe even wooden tools, including sharp spear points, hand axes and it seems they also had a glue made from tree pitch.

It seems most likely that Neanderthals had some kind of speech. Some scientists have found the hyoid bone in excavated remains. The hyoid is the bone that lets modern humans speak. Plus since they hunted in groups, it is logical they had to have some way of communicating over a distance and coordinating their attacks on the prey.

Neanderthals cared for their sick, injured and old. Injured individuals survived and show little sign infections and many debilitating injuries healed, indicating that someone had to have cared for the hurt member of the tribe. Some skeletal remains are of individuals over 50 years old and crippled with arthritis, indicating that older Neanderthals and those that could no longer ‘work’ were also cared for.

Neanderthals buried their dead, often times with a collection of objects, called grave goods. These grave goods could show some belief in an afterlife. Neanderthals also might have used body paint and make-up as well.

As we can see, Neanderthals are far from the brutish near-animals of popular culture. They had a relatively advanced physical culture of stone tools and perhaps decorative arts. They cared for each other even after death and perhaps even had a spiritual life and belief system.

Orgasms and the Pair-Bond

In humans, we have already selected and mated before the orgasm takes place; not the other way around. Humans select potential mates on a variety of contingent factors. For men, the best possible mate is fertile and is determined to healthy enough be able to raise any offspring to sexual maturity. For women, fertility matters, but just as important is the ability of the man to provide resources so any offspring will have a good chance of survival to sexual maturity.

To be blunt, while there are good and well-known evolutionary reasons for the male orgasm, while the female orgasm is a mystery. In short, no one really understands how the female climax is an evolutionary adaption, although theories abound. Some theorists think it is designed to keep a woman lying down after sex, aiding in retaining semen and increasing her prospects of conception. Others suggested that the female climax evolved to make a stronger tie between the bonded couple, by stimulating in women feelings of closeness and trust toward their male partners. Still other biologists reason that an orgasm communicates a feeling of deep sexual satisfaction and fidelity from the woman to the man.

In humans, the forming of a pair-bond between couples depends on a number factors, such as mutual attraction, timing and opportunities. All of us meet and discard potential mates hundreds of times in our lives and yet on average we are pretty picky, with men having just under seven (6.8) sexual partners in their lives, while women have just under four (3.8).

Ultimately the goal of any pair-bond is to reproduce and raise the offspring to sexual maturity as to pass on their genes to the next generation. The methods humans have adapted to achieve this is the relatively monogamous pair-bond using sexual intercourse as the means to exchange the required gametes so that the offspring has half the male partners genes and half the female partners genes.

Orgasms are the end result of sexual intercourse, which generally takes place after some kind courtship. It is during this courtship that the potential partners evaluate and determine if the partner is a worthy mate. This courtship ends in sexual intercourse which results in, potentially, orgasms for both partners.

It is simply impossible that orgasms could prevent humans from selecting then best potential mates, since they have already selected a partner before intercourse and the orgasm takes place.

Sources:

F. B Furlow & R. Thornhill,. – The Orgasm Wars. Adaptive function of the female orgasm. Psychology Today, Jan-Feb v29, 1996

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nsfg/abc_list_n.htm