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Wednesday, March 16, 2016
When Neanderthals became archaic
It's been over two years since I last looked into Archaic Humans in any detail, so... let's rediscuss our terms.
For “archaic”, we are still thinking of those frozen dead guys from the Neander Valley and the Denisova Cave. If we’re going to do this, we should do it right. What’s argued – rather, assumed – is that the Ns and the Ds died out. The word we want to use is “obsolete”. How Whig of us!
And guess what – it’s almost totally wrong. Each of the three were adapting just fine to their respective environments, which they maintained for several hundreds of thousands of years.
And now we have evidence for how well they adapted relative to each other. Circa 430k BC, Denisovan (female) mDNA intruded into a Neander tribe, not dislodging Neanders from West Eurasia. And much more recently (100k BC), an African line entered a Neander offshoot in Eurasia before our big push, again, otherwise dying out. That Neander crew wandered into the Altai and, inevitably, died out in its own turn. (Perhaps slain by Denisovans.) As for the “Denisovans” who started it all, the specimens in that cave were themselves about 17% Neanderthal. The borders weren’t impermeable. But they were resilient.
From the event the Neander(thal)ians and the Denisovans split, from each other and from the bulk of our ancestors, up to 100k-ish BC, it is difficult to argue to what extent any of the three cousins were more “archaic” than the rest.
I’ll concede to the Whigs a better case for the time the three were in competition, over the last hundred-thousand year span of Earth. Also recently found is a greatgrandson of one of our last matings. So, instead of Neanders with stray African DNA, now we got “Africans” in Eurasia with stray Neander … no longer African, but modern Eurasian. Now, at last, we can call Neander obsolete and move on to the “Why” questions.
At which point, one might concede “archaic” as well. Perhaps the Neanders as a race whelped later in life than our African forebears did, so the formers’ generations were longer. That’s the r/K thingie again; by analogy with our races’ relative physical attributes in our day. This would make any given Neander in 40k BC more like a 400k Neander than the former’s post-African contemporary was like a 400k African; that would define the 40k Neander more archaic than the 40k post-African. I’ve not yet seen Neander genetic obsolescence and inflexibility due to excessive K-selection specifically argued in the literature. It’s an interesting topic; feel free to cite my blog in your footnotes.
So, back to “Archaic Human” for Neanderites and Denisovans in news and journal-pieces. Where they’re studying human remains before 100,000 BC, our cousins weren’t that archaic for that time and they were demonstrably not obsolete for that time (and place). I no longer want to see the term except in explicitly Late Ice Age literature.
UPDATE 1/30/2018 - doubts about r/K in modern humans. But. Whatever we think of Philippe Rushton, we're talking here about populations of humans of comparable intelligence (for fitness in Europe); this post deals in "physical attributes", not mental.
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