Saturday, May 10, 2008

Neanderthals and Homo sapiens: close, but not that close

Neanderthals have been bounced around quite a bit over the modern era of anthropology. Were they our ancestors? Our failed cousins? Or were they just a little divergent, a sister race to the rest of us?
While the current majority opinion is that they were a subspecies of our own species, Homo sapiens, a new study argues for the contrary view that they formed a species in their own right. The paper by Argentinean anthropologists, based on 3D computer modeling used to study long-term changes in hominid skull shapes, suggests that Neanderthals were "chronological variants inside a single biological heritage," a fancy way of saying another species derived from the same Homo habilis root stock. By this model, H. sapiens appeared about 200,000 years ago, while Neanderthals arose fairly close to the same time but vanished 28,000 years ago.
It's going to be very interesting to see how the resulting debate comes out.

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