As I discussed in a previous post, I have taken several DNA tests. One unique statistic that 23andMe provides is one's Neanderthal Ancestry. Based upon the results, I have 285 Neanderthal variants, which, they tell me, is more than 66% of other 23andMe customers. I am also in 1st place out of my friends and family who use 23andMe. But I am not the top one overall. That title belongs to someone with 397 variants. They do add that my Neanderthal ancestry only accounts for 4% of my overall DNA.
Okay, but what does that mean exactly? Does it mean anything? Should I be worried?
To answer that question, I consulted my good friend Google and found out some interesting facts. To begin with, Neanderthals did not die out or go extinct, they were assimilated into the "modern human" population through interbreeding (a very clinical term and not one I selected). They lived between 200,000 and 30,000 years ago. Originating in Africa, they struck out for other territories long before other humans. They lived as far north and west as England and Wales and as far west as the Middle East and Uzbekistan. Their appearance was similar to ours today, except they tended to be shorter and stockier, had angled cheekbones, prominent brow ridges and wide noses. It is believed that their body frame was part of an evolutionary process to conserve heat since they lived in northern climates during the Ice Age. (Maybe that explains my stature as well as my preference for colder weather - Neanderthal DNA!)
When our modern ancestors finally got around to leaving Africa about 70,000 years ago, they naturally encountered the Neanderthals already living in those areas. Well, nature being what it is, probably took its course and offspring resulted from the unions. While it may not ultimately have worked out for the Neanderthals, it definitely had some impact upon modern humans.
Here are some of the traits that were passed on to us modern humans:
Red hair - it seems this was a Neanderthal trait
Freckles - so were these
Straight hair - Neanderthals probably invented the curling iron
Less likely to sneeze after eating dark chocolate - according to 23andMe, this is an actual trait. Go figure.
Less back hair - not sure if this applies only to men
Paler skin - allegedly, less skin pigmentation was needed to allow greater Vitamin D absorption through sunlight in the northern climates where exposure could be limited
Improved immune systems - modern humans encountered new diseases as they moved north, diseases to which Neanderthals had already developed immunity. By mating with Neanderthals, children stood a better chance of survival by passing along the resistance to these pathogens
Quick clotting - While this may have been an advantage to humans who subsisted on close contact hunting and may have been injured doing so, nowadays, this could cause issues for us later in life
Also, it turns out that Neanderthals were not the stupid brutes people thought they were. It seems that, due to new evidence and research, they are getting a makeover.
Which Neanderthal would you rather be?
Here are some things to consider about being a Neanderthal:
They were omnivores
Yes, they were not purely carnivorous or cannibalistic louts. How do we know this? Well, they found 50,000 year old fossilized poop in a cave in Spain.
They made tools
Turns out they were not too dumb or clumsy to make useful or effective tools. Bones were discovered that were from mature animals, not sick or old ones, indicating that Neanderthals used their tools to become skilled hunters and not opportunistic scavengers.
They cared for their dead
Graves have been found that indicate Neanderthals had family sites and that they buried flowers, food and tools with the dead, possibly for use in the afterlife
They enjoyed art and music
Various musical instruments, such as a bear bone flute have been found at Neanderthal sites. There are also numerous cave paintings and carved figurines.
Okay, so maybe having a fair amount of Neanderthal DNA is not so bad. It certainly is a good excuse for my height!
Overall, in my opinion, it comes down to being nothing more than an interesting tidbit to share among friends and start conversations at parties.