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Why did Neanderthals go extinct?

By John Gibbons

Smithsonian paleoanthropologist Briana Pobiner gives us a closer look into what may have caused Neanderthals to disappear. (Photo by John Gibbons)

Smithsonian paleoanthropologist Briana Pobiner gives us a closer look into what may have caused Neanderthals to disappear. (Photo by John Gibbons)

Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) were widespread across Europe and Western Asia for a long time, starting about 400,000 years ago. But things began to change when populations of Homo sapiens (earlier members of our own species) migrated from Africa to Europe at about 45,000 years ago. Five thousand years later not a single Neanderthal remained. What happened? To find out, Smithsonian Insider posed a seemingly simple question to Briana Pobiner, paleoanthropologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Q: So, why exactly did Neanderthals go extinct?

Pobiner: It is hard to know exactly why many species are on the verge of extinction now, let alone species in the deep past that are already gone. However, we can assume some of the same basic ecological processes driving animals to extinction today are part of the puzzle. In the case of Neanderthals, we think competition and changes to their habitat due to climate change were two of the main factors.

Neanderthals were fairly specialized to hunt large, Ice Age animals. But sometimes being specialized isn’t such a good strategy. When climates changed and some of those animals went extinct, the Neanderthals may have been more vulnerable to starvation.

Briana Pobiner studies the bones of many different species of early humans, including Neanderthals, as part of the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program. (credit: Smithsonian)

Briana Pobiner studies the bones of many different species of early humans, including Neanderthals, as part of the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program. (Smithsonian photo)

We also think Homo sapiens had a competitive edge over Neanderthals. There is evidence that early Homo sapiens had long-distance trade networks, possibly buffering them against times of climate change when their preferred foods were not available; Neanderthals did not.

Neanderthals had physical features that helped them survive cold climates, like large noses to humidify and warm dry, cold air and short, stout bodies to conserve heat, but early Homo sapiens had technology that Neanderthals didn’t, including sewing needles to make clothing, important during the colder periods of the Ice Ages. Homo sapiens also had innovative tools like bows and arrows and seemed to have a more diverse diet than Neanderthals.

We don’t have evidence of direct combat between the two species, but we know they interacted, because they interbred. Some would say Neanderthals didn’t go extinct, because everyone alive today whose ancestry is from outside of Africa (where Neanderthals never lived) carries a little bit of Neanderthal DNA in their genes.


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  • Jerald Litton

    The Neanderthals died because of human nature. The human males were wimps compared to the powerful Neanderthals males. Females of the time always went for the strongest mates. The Neanderthal males chose the attractive homo sapiens females to breed with over their own females and because of a variety of reasons and produced very low numbers of offspring. Over a period of time this vastly contributed to their demise while the weaker homo sapiens out populated them.

  • Harry Lester

    Planned parenthood was there !

  • frank west

    i honestly dont see how neanderthals could be any worse than modern day humans. hell even humans 3000 years ago

  • If you’re willing to listen, I can tell you exactly how Neanderthals went extinct…….one word…….DISEASE…… OUT OF AFRICA——–Even today, Africa has dozens of viruses, bacteria and parasites endemic to Africa and only Africa. 45,000 years ago (or sooner!), Homo Sapiens Sapiens (HSS) brought with them their fleas, flies, lice, ticks, mites, viruses, bacteria, animals, vermin and parasites. The Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis (HSN) would have had no immunity to these pathogens. Think Pizarro, Columbus, Cortez, and especially hundreds of thousands of white settlers moving across the North American continent. Think: Native American Indians! For every native American Indian that died from a bullet or saber TEN TIMES as many died from disease—–diphtheria, measles, mumps, German measles, tuberculosis and number one–SMALLPOX. You know this! So why would you possibly think it was any different 40,000 years ago! It is painfully obvious to me how Neanderthals went extinct.

    • Charles

      The possibility of the endemics you are speaking about is very low. Many diseases, such as smallpox and tuberculosis appeared due to the sheer number of domesticated animals in packed cities. 40,000 years ago we were not domesticating animals and we did not have cities that create environments in which endemics can thrive. Also, when settlers moved from Europe, it was a rather quick migration. When early Homo sapiens migrated out of Africa, it was a long drawn out process. The migration into colder territory would not have allowed the endemic to continue to live over thousands of years.

      • Curro Mora

        I agree. Hadn’t seen your post when I wrote mine. I had forgotten the role of packed cities in the contagion of diseases from domesticated animals to humans. Thanks

    • Curro Mora

      I tend to politely disagree with what we could call “Tolner’s conjecture”. One word you mention “endemic” is the key to me. Those diseases you mention are endemic to Africa. To give an example, the mosquitoes that cause malaria would not have followed the African Cro-Magnon migrants into Europe. The work of Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steele (whose source is scientific research) explains that Europeans brought germs to the Americas that we adopted and got immune to due to our domestication of animals that were not present in the Americas. But domestication only happened from the Neolithic.


    Maybe they sucked at social engineering and Twitter. They died off because of their numbers were too few, perhaps they weren’t as appealing to neanderthal females of the time idunno. We could punch holes on paper all day long and come up with creative ways to kill off dead species. Maybe it was a meteorite yeah that’s it sounds plausible, print it!

  • The Honest Truth

    What a change since then.

  • Anonymous

    who is “we” I would like a persons name in this article

  • Rockhound6165

    I’m loving all the “expert” analysis here. Strange that all of you are experts in this field but Smithsonian scientists aren’t. Truth is, nobody here or there has any first hand experience hence one hypothesis is just as plausible as the next.

  • Susan Solomon

    I take exception to the statement that Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals interbred. We separated from the same parent species about a million years ago, with no Y or mtDNA shared from there, so no interbreeding, just typical genetic drift where some populations of Homo Sapiens retained some genes that Neanderthals also retained, such as those for cold weather. The story of Human DNA in Africa is also a bit more complicated than the current picture of ‘no DNA shared with Neanderthals.’ Any living humans would necessarily share some of the same genes of a parent species with other descendants of that species, and some Africans do show a very small amount of similar retained genes from the progenitor species.

  • qualsz

    seeking for advise that since when sciencetists have admitted / discovered modern non-african people have neanderthal DNA?

    As I ever learned that the difference between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals is as big as that of modern human and Chimpanzees, thus they could not ever interbreed.

    • Aryaman Panda

      even lions and tigers breed, albeit their offspring are helplessly weak… but still that doesn’t mean that Neanderthals and Sapiens can’t breed. It is plausible.

    • Curro Mora

      By now it has been clearly confirmed that we non-African modern humans carry neanderthal genes. They are our ancestors too, and they live in us…

    • We don’t actually know if humans and chimps could produce viable (but sterile) offspring. It would be a massively unethical experiment, although fascinating.

  • I take it that from such a cheap ad hominem shot that you feel the burn and not the burden of historical knowledge or deep thought.

  • Gee, Perfesser. You might stand to benefit from a ninth grade English class too

  • Doc2222

    The proof that Neanderthals never went extinct is the Republican Party.

  • Andrew Sands

    Hitler Version 1.0. 1.1 was created in the 1930’s

  • Tatsujiro Kurogane

    The John 3:16 Theory???? 😉

  • Tanthalas

    I don’t think using the term “interbred” is suggesting it was consensual breeding, like you seem to suggest. Whether it was rape or not, the term still applies.

    • Daniel Sheppard

      I do declare.

    • Susan Solomon

      Yes, Neanderthals were probably incredibly unappealing to Homo Sapiens. Their entire cultural make up was different, and its still in doubt whether they actually spoke, moved, lived, traveled or looked anything like Homo Sapiens. They did not seasonally migrate, but stayed in the same place year round until everything edible was gone, and the genders seemed culturally far less involved with each other. Whether there were fertile offspring between this group and us, is in deep doubt, regardless of this very odd emphasis on the part of gene companies somehow, with no evidence, to claim that there were.

  • Susan Solomon

    I agree Tracey – there’s been absolutely no corresponding evidence about social systems that explain ‘interbreeding.’ Also, there are huge unexplained issues with that theory regarding the total lack of Homo Sapiens mitochondrial DNA. No HS mitochondria DNA implies that males from our species were breeding with females in their group and not the other way around, or that HS females could not produce live offspring, which raises questions about how the opposite was true. This is a theory without enough scientific supporting evidence to be anything but some trippy money making expedition into the world of science as a circus.

    • Matt Baker

      I can think of one… that homo sapiens males could not impregnate a neanderthal female, but that the reverse is not true… we all have our mothers mitochondrial DNA, that is the only logical answer, if there is neanderthal DNA in the Homo Sapiens autosomal genome without corresponding mitochondrial neanderthal DNA.

      there are several cases of inter and intraspecific hybrids where the outcomes are different depending on which species is the father that alter the offspring in many ways (see Liger vs Tigon for example)

      perhaps the variant where the homo sapiens was the father has a fatal genetic incompatibility.

      just a guess

  • But I also think it cold have ben both because they could have just bred out but yours is reasonable

  • I agree with you Tracey That is aver good hypothisis!

  • Mohammed Al-Diery

    Hey guys. I’m currently studying human evolution quite thoroughly in school at the moment. What you need to remember quite thoroughly is that this interbreeding/interaction occurred approximately 40,000 years ago. Whilst we don’t know for certain, cultural practice such as conquest, warfare, rape etc. was unlikely to exist in a largely nomadic hunter gatherer lifestyle and we can’t compare our culture to the culture of early H. sapiens. Also analysis of mitochondrial DNA shows no Neanderthal mtDNA in modern human mtDNA. This DNA is only inherited from the maternal line which would suggest that the only successful interbred that could have occurred was Neanderthal males with modern human females. Therefore, your suggestion of conquest and rape is not likely to be applicable to this event.

    • dandonovski

      the lack of mtDNA is interesting. though it doesnt rule out rape. if our neanderthal dna could only have come from neanderthal men, it is totally plausible to hypothesize that our neanderthal inheritance comes from our greatgreatgreat.. grandmothers being raped by neanderthal men, then raising the children as humans within human tribes. what this does prove though is that humans didnt just stroll in, take neanderthal women as wives and then snatch away the resulting children. though it is possible that these prehistoric populations did interbreed this way, since those resulting children may have ended up dying off within the neanderthal tribes without being able to pass on their neanderthal mtDNA to human populations

      • WIDTAP

        Or it could be that a perfectly suitable, svelt, intelligent homo sapien male was willing and available, but great-great-…-great grandma still went for the hairy, brutish, over-mussled Neaderthal.

        40,000 years of social changes later and certain human behavior still hasn’t changed!

        • dandonovski

          haha i like the way you think, but i think i’ve had enough of speculating on the sexual passions of my greatgreagreat.. grandmother..
          I think Mohammed nailed it when he said that since it happened so many thousands of years ago, we can hardly use our experience of human culture today to make assumptions on the way people were back then

        • Jorge Socarras

          Thanks for bringing up this very human – or Neanderthal – factor – hotness! A lot of these Darwinian geeks seem to forget that sometimes sex is just sex.

          • Susan Solomon

            But sex between two different species isn’t ‘just sex.’ It’s a very unusual occurrence and in my opinion the so-called ‘shared genes’ with Neanderthals are nothing more than utter speculation. They are far more likely the result of genetic drift – that is the retention of similar genes on the part of each species, due to the fact that we come from the same ancient progenitor species well over a million years ago. Since humans have migrated so widely it would not be unusual for isolated groups to each retain slightly different genetic material from the progenitor. Groups experiencing more severe cold might easily retain the same genes we find now in Neanderthals without the two species ever having interbred. What I find disturbing is that anthropologists know this, and a few are choosing to misrepresent science so egregiously as to make this childish claim that they are ‘sure’ Neanderthals bred with Homo Sapiens and can pinpoint the percent for each modern human. That is so creepily phony I just have no idea why it’s happening.

      • Susan Solomon

        There has never been a Homo Sapiens Y found in Neanderthals, nor Homo Sapiens mtDNA. Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals split off between 500,000 and 1,000,000 years ago (or more) from the same ancestor, and our genes show this, but not that we interbred. Genetic drift would account for the fact that some of us do share more genes than others with Neanderthals in tiny traces but none of this proves or even indicates interbreeding. There’s no indication whatsoever that there were ‘wives’ at the time we were both in Europe – the male takeover of leadership from women happened very late, around 3000 years ago. Nor is there any indication of rape, for entirely different reasons. There’s still almost no proof of any sort that the two groups lived near each other or had anything cultural in common.

        • dandonovski

          According to the Out of Africa theory, Humans and Neanderthals both lived in Europe for thousands of years. Their time frames overlapped. There is evidence for both groups using stone tools and likely for neanderthal to also have used fire. Seeing as it was ~45,000 years ago, i’m not sure what further proof you could expect of the two groups being culturally similar. Furthermore they were anatomically similar (relative to any other animal species), had the same amount of chromosomes, and as you said, likely to be a couple hundred thousands of years removed (genetically and geographically). Thanks to genetic testing, the evidence that the two groups interbred is quite strong. I was just speculating on how it might have gone about occurring all that time ago..

        • Tue Sorensen

          What are your sources for the statement: “the male takeover of leadership from women happened very late, around 3000 years ago”?

          3000 years ago – about the time of Troy – was an advanced age with plenty of well-developed cultures and a well-developed class societies. Patriarchal structures would have followed the introduction of the class system that followed from agriculture and sedentary as opposed to nomadic living. So we probably need to go back some 10,000 years or more before getting to the matriarchal social strcutures. Remember, even nomads like the American Indians at around the time of Columbus was a male-driven warrior culture. As long as there has been any kind of organized war, men have mainly been in charge (not that I’m trying to endorse this in any way – I believe we should strive for equality) – and that goes much further back than 3000 years.

    • Susan Solomon

      If you want to know more about the issue of rape etc. please read up on anthropological studies of humans. Most evidence indicates that in general ancient culture, human females from one group tended to approach females from another group, in exactly the same way Bonobos do. In early human existence this was probably the norm, with males following along if all went peacefully. Otherwise males either fought or fled.

    • Widtap

      There you go. Svelt, intelligent homo sapient male is available and willing, and the woman goes for the crude, hairy muscular Neanderthal.

      It looks like not like much has changed in 40,000 years!

  • Willie Herath

    “We don’t have evidence of direct combat between the two species, but we know they interacted, because they interbred.”

    Two different species interbred? By definition, species are genetically isolated from each other, meaning they can not interbreed. If modern genetics has proven that homo-sapiens bred with Neanderthals, then we must ask ourselves if we are dealing with two species or one. Real science would say that either one of these two species never existed or they never interbred.

    • Neanderthals are not fully a different species to modern man; both of us are subspecies of Homo sapiens. Our species Homo sapiens sapiens; theirs is Homo sapiens neanderthalensis.

      • Willie Herath

        Homo sapien is the binomial nomenclature for the human species. Homo is the human genus, which also includes Neanderthals and many other extinct species of hominid; H. sapiens is the only surviving species of the genus Homo.

        Neanderthals were a completely different species, that didn’t exist.

        • But they did interbreed. If they were different species, that wouldn’t be possible. But it happened. Some closely related species can interbreed.

          • Willie Herath

            How do you know they interbred Max? Also, if they did interbreed like you said, then by definition, they are the same species. Here’s the definition of species from the National Academy of Sciences.

            Species: In sexually reproducing organisms, species consist of individuals that can interbreed with each other.

            Geneticists that say we have Neanderthal DNA in our genome are essentially saying that Neanderthals never existed.

          • Your knowledge of science is insufficient, Willie. The definition of a species is not set in stone. Horses and donkeys can interbreed to create mules, remember? Lions and tigers can also interbreed, although their offspring may be sterile because they might have a different number of chromosomes.

            Parts of a given population might be isolated from the rest for hundreds of thousands of years, becoming almost a new species, but still be similar enough to interbreed with the original or ancestral population. That’s the case for Neanderthals and modern humans. They were related enough to be able to interbreed. This is simply a fact. We know it from genetic analysis: All the people who left Africa 60,000 years ago have trace amounts of Neanderthal genes in their DNA. Original humans all had krinkly hair, for instance, and Asians and Europeans got their straight hair gene from Neanderthals. Possibly also their light skin color.

          • Willie Herath

            Hybridization of two species is a generic dead end, therefore not an official species.

            Swedes and Pygmy tribes of central Africa have been separated for eons, yet are still able to actually interbreed and create viable offspring. We know this because of observation, which is amenable to science.

            Claiming that two different species, Neanderthals and humans, bred and had viable offspring is contrary to what we observe two different species capable of doing today.

            Anything outside of the visible observable universe is Webster’s definition of supernatural. Are you suggesting a supernatural event took place?

          • You are misunderstanding science, Willie, and I won’t discuss this any further with you.

          • Willie Herath

            Well, I definitely agree that at least one of us is misunderstanding science.

            Webster defines science as: knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation.

            Good chatting while it lasted.

            All the best to you. 🙂

          • Mohammed Al-Diery

            I know this is old but I’d like to clarify a few things. Scientific concepts are not as concrete as we might think. There are degrees of fluidity in terms of how we define things. For example, an object can be so viscous that it may appear solid but is in fact a liquid. A biological example of breeding that doesn’t follow traditional concepts is a cline. A cline is a series of seperate populations that live close to each other but have different features e.g as you go from north to south they become more pale etc. A deme (local population) can breed with the immediate demes next to it but cannot with any other deme. Think of a chain link. Whilst this chain remains unbroken, even though a deme cannot breed with certain other demes, because they are linked together in terms of gene flow by the demes immediately around it, they all are considered one species. As soon as one of the demes becomes extinct or dies out, that link breaks and you would have two separate clines and therefore species. It is very difficult for scientists to classify populations. Neanderthals are so genetically different to modern humans that for this reason they may have been classified as a different species. It is also important to remember that these cases of successful interbreeding are extremely rare and it is believed that in 5,000 years of interaction it only occurred 28 times. Comparing Swedes to Pgymy Tribes is not a reasonable example. Cultural evolution has taken over biological evolution as humans have manipulated their surroundings to suit themselves meaning no natural selection. Neanderthals lived before the expansion of human cultural evolution about 10,000 years ago, and due to different selection pressures in Northern Europe and Africa, Neanderthals and H. sapiens are biologically different.

          • Nancy Diaz

            I believe Willie has indeed misunderstood the scientific method. It is definitely not rigid as he wants it to appear. A number of scientific laws have been supplanted or modified as we gain a better understanding of nature and better experimental methods have been devised. A good example is Newton’s law of mechanics, for hundreds of years it was the law used for explaining motion but as scientists started studying the properties of subatomic particles they found out that the law simply doesn’t hold up and has to be supplanted with the law of quantum mechanics.when it comes to explaining the properties of subatomic particles.

          • Susan Solomon

            Breeding between species is exceedingly rare and problematic, based on the definition of ‘species’ as a closed DNA packet.

          • Tue Sorensen

            But that’s OUR definition. Our definition doesn’t impact on how nature works. We could be wrong.

          • Susan Solomon

            A species isn’t closed because we say so – we say so because over a long period of time a given set of genes seems closed to outside genes, and thus produces an organism so predictable that we give it the special title of ‘species. Let’s say it is the ‘Neanderthal species.’ We compare that species to our own Homo Sapiens and find that we are hominids who descended from the same progenitor ancestor about a million years ago. We have many genes from the progenitor, and so do Neanderthals, but we find no Homo Sapiens mtdna or Y chromosome in Neanderthals, and no Neanderthal mtdna or Y chromosome in Homo Sapiens. What we find we do share is a small bundle of genes associated with, for one, extreme cold and body regulation. This seems to imply that though we share genes from an earlier ancestor (or produced them through living in cold weather) we probably did not interbreed.

            The idea that because we share some portion of Neanderthal genes we should consider ourselves, ‘part Neanderthal’ is a throwback to an earlier day. Remember when humans stumbled upon the ancient hominid remains of their ancestors and then declared themselves ‘part caveman?’ Just to be clear, you will find that we do share many genes with other species, such as flowers. Yes, you are ‘part flower.’

          • Tue Sorensen

            Neither scientists nor the rest of us particularly agree about what the data “seem to imply”. This is a fruitless argument until we have far more data.

          • Susan Solomon

            Tue – Yes – the definition of ‘species’ is set in stone where interbreeding is considered – a species consists of individuals who can interbreed with each other. The rare exceptions simply prove the rule. The few closely related animals that do interbreed rarely survive, and the ones that do are almost always sterile. Also, I have no idea why ‘science’ is alleging the two species interbred, because the scientists who are doing this are ignoring the lack of evidence for it.

          • Tue Sorensen

            The claim is that they have found about 4% Neanderthal DNA in modern humans (except sub-Saharan Africans). I don’t know how certain that theory is.

          • Susan Solomon

            People who left Africa 60,000 years ago did not have ‘trace amounts’ of Neanderthal genes because they had not yet met Neanderthals, who lived in Europe. Asians and Europeans did not get ‘straight hair’ from Neanderthals; what makes you think Neanderthals had ‘straight hair’ anyway? At any rate, humans in general did not originally have ‘crinkly’ hair’, nor to my knowledge did Neanderthals. Light skin color originated in Homo Sapiens around 5000 BC, according to the most recent DNA findings, and this too had zero to do with Neanderthals.

          • Tue Sorensen

            Actually, Neanderthals lived for several hundreds of thousands of years before modern humans came along; there would have been ample opportunity for their genes to get intermixed somewhere along the way. The latest news about the human diaspora is that they left Africa in several waves, and some of them even returned to Africa, after first hitting Europe some 80-90,000 years ago. Plenty of opportunity for Neanderthal contact.

            As for the crinkly or straight hair thing; I don’t know if that is speculation on the part of scientists or if they have actual evidence of it, and by the sound of it, you don’t know, either. Science is about knowledge, not about having cocksure opinions based on insufficient data.

            If light skin only came along about 7000 years ago, how do you explain that blond hair evolved about 11,000 years ago in Northern Europe? Either light skin is far older than 7000 years – or blond hair came from the Neanderthals! Either way, your position in these matters is unsubstantiated.

          • Susan Solomon

            William thanks very much for your helpful explanation. As you say, if organisms can interbreed they’re the same species, and anyone who bothers to read anthropology on Neanderthals will see how incredibly unlike us they were: They could not throw like we do, or run like we do; they did not seasonally migrate which is a cornerstone of our behavior; their puberty came years earlier than ours; the two genders show signs of living much more separately than we do – they did not make art, despite some flimsy rumors to that effect; their brain is constructed very differently than ours, and whether they had true speech or not is still in question; they burn more calories per pound than any other hominid known to science – very different metabolism than ours. In short – they appear to be a different species and there is no credible or proven evidence that they ever interbred. In fact the evidence goes the opposite way – we do not share a single Y or mtDNA chromosome with that group.

      • Susan Solomon

        There’s a debate about that – whether they are a different species or subspecies.

    • Susan Solomon

      I’ve been saying this for years. Neanderthals were dramatically different from HS in essential ways, including size, caloric intake (theirs was the largest of any hominid yet studied) lack of organized seasonal migration, more separation of gender life and significantly earlier puberty, inability to throw and run in the same way, fewer to no comparably sophisticated tools, as well as, to date, absolutely no comparable art.

    • craig

      Hasn’t it been established that Neanderthals are merely a different subspecies? Both of us are Homo Sapiens but we are “sapiens sapiens” while they were “sapiens neanderthalis.” Or has that been disproven?

      • Willie Herath

        According to Ernst Mayr and the Biological Species Concept (BSC), only the members of the same species can interbreed and have successful and viable offspring.

        Opening up the idea of a human subspecies, could end up being quite problematic today. Which humans are not fully human and which are just a subspecies? Sounds scary.

    • Bill589


      • Willie Herath

        Ligers can not produce viable offspring, they are sterile.

        • Bill589

          Thank you for the reply.
          I’m a novice at this but know a little bit about different dog breed relationships and their relationship to wolves.

          Is the amount of difference between Neanderthals and Sapiens more like the difference between dog breeds or more like the difference between dogs and wolves? Or is this another silly question?

          • Willie Herath

            I don’t believe any honest question is silly. 🙂

            When it comes to science, we can only infer up to a point, then we must follow through empirically.

            When it comes to wolves and varying breeds of domesticated dogs, we are able to observe both without inference. We know that wolves and dogs are very different, but observation and DNA testing has shown they are able to produce viable/fertile offspring together, which according to our understanding of biology, makes them the same species.

            When it comes to humans and Neanderthals, we are limited. All we have to compare is DNA. We can be positive that DNA sequenced from humans is in fact from humans. We can only hope the DNA that has been sequenced from Neanderthal bone samples is actually from a Neanderthal.

            Secondly, unlike the ancestor to domesticated dogs… the wolf, we don’t know if Neanderthals actually existed. There are many dig sites, and much evidence to suggest the existence of a human/human-like group that could be inferred to have been left by Neanderthals. Many scientifically minded researchers have not stopped at inference, but have continued on in search of empirical data. Of which, geneticists have discovered the human genome to possess very similar sequences to that of the proposed Neanderthal genome. This data is so compelling that geneticists have come to the consensus that Neanderthals and humans were able to interbreed and produce viable/fertile offspring together. Which according to our understanding of biology means the two groups are in fact one species.

            Although the idea of Neanderthals is fascinating, the empirical data suggests they were fully human. The most data focused way to view Neanderthals is as an ethnicity. Much like a four foot tall African Pygmy tribesman could have viable/fertile offspring with a six foot tall Swedish Supermodel, the differences are only ethnic and not a matter of species.

            There is no scientific data that definitively confirms that Neanderthals were a separate species. There is however, much empirically scientific data that draws very strong parallels to Neanderthals being a unique ethnicity, but in fact human.

            I hope this helps. 🙂

          • Susan Solomon

            It is entirely wrong to view Neanderthals as an ethnicity. Ethnicity has nothing at all to do with species or sub species, but implies only superficial differences in body types and coloring of hair, eyes and so on, with a fully human genotype. Neanderthals do not have a ‘fully human genotype’ because they were not human but belong to another species.

          • @susan_solomon:disqus – I completely agree. I only bring up the ethnicity idea with those who claim Neanderthals actually bred with Humans and produced fertile/viable offspring. That would be the only possibly, but it seems that the genetic echoings found in each specie’s genome must be due to convergence. I guess we’ll never know for sure.

          • Susan Solomon

            William what I’ve been noticing is a growing and significant difference in how science is being presented to the public as compared to yesteryear. This entire discussion about Neanderthals ‘breeding’ with humans has no real foundation or substance, since its based solely on DNA studies where shared genes are immediately cast as interbreeding. Scientists know much better than this – and if you dig around you’ll find many who deny Neanderthals interbred with Homo Sapiens, or at least point out there’s not nearly enough evidence for it. In fact there are many reputable scientists out there right now saying all this, but they’re opinions are being buried.. I get the feeling science itself is being prostituted just to get the discussion going. People are throwing so many really poor guesses into the pot, confusing ethnicity with subspecies etc, making wild connections in their head that come from popular movies on the subject – while knowing nothing about real field reports on Neanderthals and their middens, for instance. People are actually prompting each other not to accept the conclusion that the definition of ‘species’ includes the ability to interbreed – and that’s when I simply want to get off the bus. What is going on? Sure it’s possible the two groups interbred, but not likely, and more unlikely is that they got along at all, which is at least as important as whether they had sex. It’s actually a marvel how little alike they were in any way, and people have no idea of this, have not read one real book on their cultures or ways. I see science becoming nothing but a tool of propaganda in this case and you have to wonder why.

          • John Sowa

            The domestic dog was formerly considered the species Canis familiaris. But it has more recently been reclassified as a subspecies of grey wolf, Canis lupus familiaris.
            There is also some debate whether Homo neanderthalensis should be classified as a subspecies Homo sapiens neanderthalensis.

    • tobbers

      There are many ways in which to define a species – successful interbreeding is only one, and as with all the other methods (cladistic, phenetic, ecological…), it is not always applicable. The species concept is flexible and it is not nessecarily possible to draw straight lines between groups of organisms.

      • Susan Solomon

        The species concept is not flexible, where did you get that idea? It is entirely possible to draw connections between animals of the same species. Without the ability to successfully breeding you do not have the same species, by definition. If you wish to define ‘species’ in a new way that does not cite successful breeding please share it with us.

        • Aixla Chapelle

          Would this mean that an offspring in any species that cannot breed is no longer that species? So if I have a child and that child is either barren or sterile, does that mean that my child is not a homo sapien?

          • Susan Solomon

            You seem to be confusing apples and oranges with your question about a ‘barren’ member of a species. Z ‘barren’ animal is one that cannot get pregnant or get another animal pregnant. A ‘barren’ animal by definition cannot breed at all.

            But a perfectly fertile cat cannot breed with a dog because the actual physical shape and size of their genes, and the ability of one gene to match up with another, is missing. They don’t fit together, or some do and some don’t, or something is missing such as an enzyme that is needed to create the proper environment, or one has more or less genes, or just anything. I have always been offended by the rush to assume Neanderthals bred with Homo Sapiens because there’s so much evidence that across the board so many things were different. The genes we do share are not the ‘2 -4%’ 23andme alleges, but 2-4% of a fraction of our entire genome, which is a small part of our genes.

          • Aixla Chapelle

            I remember reading somewhere that there is no clinical diagnosis for “barren,” outside certain chromosomal abnormalities that have sterility. I think it was making the claim that some people are not necessarily “barren” or “sterile” as much as they haven’t found the right environmental circumstances or the right genetic partner for sexual reproduction. Does that sound familiar at all?

            Anyway, I was just asserting the idea that the ability to have offspring should not be the sole determiner for what makes a species a “species.” This is not to say that I can have offspring with a strawberry, but stranger things have happened. Not to mention the idea that all genetic coding at one point had a common origin, or maybe a few common origins. Now we get into the bigger questions like; “Why does individual variations happen only when genomes are isolated for relatively longer periods of time?” “Why did certain genomes begin to become sexual incompatible?” “Is it possible for seemingly sexually incompatible genomes to become sexually compatible again? Maybe if given relative time and the same material conditions of isolation?” etc., etc., etc.

            Also, don’t be too offended by assumptions and questions. I think it is a way for our DNA to battle out the certain ideas that are contained within our DNA. 😉

          • Susan Solomon

            Aixla – Barren is a general term for not being able to have offspring. It might be caused by malnutrition, harm to the organs, or anything else. On the other hand, yes, the ability to have offspring together is one definition of what makes a species. I’m not yet convinced that Neanderthals bred with Homo Sapiens because if you look at the work of anthropologists, the two species were far more different than alike. Their metabolisms were quite unalike, Neanderthals were far more muscular and had a totally different ratio of muscle to bone, height, and weight. Their caloric intake is the highest of any hominid. This alone, because it’s so systemic, would indicate a different species in which all body systems would work somewhat differently from Homo Sapiens. In addition, they did not seasonally migrate, rather they consumed all food in any form they could while staying in one place; they decimated areas and moved on only when there wasn’t another scrap to eat. They did not have art, they used their teeth as a third hand (judging from marks on leather), they could not throw as we do, the males and females tended to live and hunt more separately, and did not seem as integrated with each other as we are. They reached puberty several years earlier as well, indicating a lower premium put on maturity. Their social systems, and intellectual needs and capacities were probably all lower.

    • Susan Solomon

      So right. First – contrary to claims, even on the part of supposedly reputable scientists – there really is no true evidence of actual interbreeding. The two species did share some genes based on having the same progenitor species; and they probably shared some genes based on shared environmental influences, such as the tiny packet that is now being termed ‘Neanderthal’ genes,’ that seems to have to do with regulation of body temperature due to extreme cold, but there is simply no evidence yet that the two separate species interbred. There is a staggering amount of evidence meanwhile from other sources, such as field studies of middens and the like, that the two species were far less alike than pop science would have you believe. Neanderthals, for instance, had the highest metabolic rate of any primate. so that its caloric needs were gigantic. They also lacked the ability to throw or run. They also lived in fairly separated gender groups; they came into puberty several years earlier than Homo Sapiens; they did not seasonally migrate, but stayed put until all food sources were entirely used up, after which they moved on leaving a desolated area. There is no firm evidence that they had true speech, there is no evidence of anything like true art, and in short in many ways it would appear that they were not much more like us than a typical orangutan.

  • Why is this in the “News?” There is nothing new here — just some old hypotheses. Depending on the time nd locationm Neanderthals did eat a varied diet including birds, fish and shellfish. They also ate plants and cooked grains. They had leatherworking toools that were not used by contemporameous anatomically modern humans. They didn’t have eyed needles, but they had awls. Their population numbers were lower and the climate changes would have had an impact, but that also impacted AMH numbers as well, even later in the last glaciation. I think assimilation is the most likely cause of their disappearance as a separate species. See for details.

  • There’s a great Sci Fi story where Neanderthal DNA is cloned, and hybrid Neanderthal – Sapiens babies born.
    Turns out Neanderthals are superior to us in EVERY way, smarter, faster, FAR stronger, but loving, peaceful. They died out only because their high energy /metabolism required more food. The ice age starved them, while Sapiens was more adaptable to hunger.
    In a couple generations, they dominated pro sports, and scientific, medical, legal professions.
    A racist backlash started, people were threatened, tho the number of hybrid humans was not large. Story ends inferring now its Homo Sapiens turn for extinction!

    • Murkuonatuesday

      More whites are dying then being born 2015

      • Tatsujiro Kurogane

        Are you suggesting there is yet hope for the species? That seems a touch racist, even though any student of history knows what bloodthirsty savages they are, historically speaking.

    • Colton Baldwin

      Whats the story called? it sounds very interesting.

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