Two New Neanderthal Studies

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April 20, 2009

The always fascinating Neanderthals were the subject of two studies announced in recent weeks.  The first revealed at least three and possibly four genetically distinct subgroups of Homo neanderthalensis, while the second disputed the contention Neanderthals were cannibals at a Croatian site.

The Neanderthals occupied a wide range 100,000 to 30,000 years ago, extending from the Atlantic to Central Asia and southwards along the eastern Mediterranean littoral.  Earlier researchers have suggested Neanderthal fossil remains indicate differences from region to region and this study, conducted by researchers from CNRS in France , working with the mitochondrial DNA of 12 Neanderthals, “…confirms the presence of three separate sub-groups and suggests the existence of a fourth group in western Asia. According to the authors, the size of the Neanderthal population was not constant over time and a certain amount of migration occurred among the sub-groups. The variability among the Neanderthal population is interpreted to be an indirect consequence of the particular climatic conditions on their territorial extension during the entire middle Pleistocene time period.“

At the annual meeting this year in Chicago of the Paleoanthropological Society, Dr Jeorg Orschiedt of the University of Hamburg disputed cannibalism at the Krapina site in Croatia, attributing cut marks on bones to a variety of possibilities.  Human defleshing attempts would have left a more consistent set of marks on the bones, Orschiedt said.

Read more on this research in the Scientific American.

Pursue the inquiry into Neanderthal subgroups in the PL os ONE release.

Here is a map showing the extent of the Homo neanderthalensis range during the period mentioned.  Note: Sea levels were lower during periods of maximum glaciation, just before Neanderthal extinction.