Were Neanderthals a sub-species of modern humans? New research says no

November 18, 2014
A Neanderthal skeleton, left, compared with a modern human skeleton. Credit: American Museum of Natural History

In an extensive, multi-institution study led by SUNY Downstate Medical Center, researchers have identified new evidence supporting the growing belief that Neanderthals were a distinct species separate from modern humans (Homo sapiens), and not a subspecies of modern humans.

The study looked at the entire nasal complex of Neanderthals and involved researchers with diverse academic backgrounds. Supported by funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, the research also indicates that the Neanderthal nasal complex was not adaptively inferior to that of , and that the Neanderthals' extinction was likely due to competition from modern humans and not an inability of the Neanderthal nose to process a colder and drier climate.

Samuel Márquez, PhD, associate professor and co-discipline director of gross anatomy in SUNY Downstate's Department of Cell Biology, and his team of specialists published their findings on the Neanderthal nasal complex in the November issue of The Anatomical Record, which is part of a special issue on The Vertebrate Nose: Evolution, Structure, and Function (now online).

They argue that studies of the Neanderthal nose, which have spanned over a century and a half, have been approaching this anatomical enigma from the wrong perspective. Previous work has compared Neanderthal nasal dimensions to modern human populations such as the Inuit and modern Europeans, whose nasal complexes are adapted to cold and temperate climates.

However, the current study joins a growing body of evidence that the upper respiratory tracts of this extinct group functioned via a different set of rules as a result of a separate evolutionary history and overall cranial bauplan (bodyplan), resulting in a mosaic of features not found among any population of Homo sapiens. Thus Dr. Márquez and his team of paleoanthropologists, comparative anatomists, and an otolaryngologist have contributed to the understanding of two of the most controversial topics in paleoanthropology - were Neanderthals a different species from modern humans and which aspects of their cranial morphology evolved as adaptations to cold stress.

"The strategy was to have a comprehensive examination of the nasal region of diverse modern human population groups and then compare the data with the fossil evidence. We used traditional morphometrics, geometric morphometric methodology based on 3D coordinate data, and CT imaging," Dr. Márquez explained.

Anthony S. Pagano, PhD, anatomy instructor at NYU Langone Medical Center, a co-author, traveled to many European museums carrying a microscribe digitizer, the instrument used to collect 3D coordinate data from the fossils studied in this work, as spatial information may be missed using traditional morphometric methods. "We interpreted our findings using the different strengths of the team members," Dr. Márquez said, "so that we can have a 'feel' for where these Neanderthals may lie along the modern human spectrum."

Co-author William Lawson, MD, DDS, vice-chair and the Eugen Grabscheid research professor of otolaryngology and director of the Paleorhinology Laboratory of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, notes that the external nasal aperture of the Neanderthals approximates some modern human populations but that their midfacial prognathism (protrusion of the midface) is startlingly different. That difference is one of a number of Neanderthal nasal traits suggesting an evolutionary development distinct from that of modern humans. Dr. Lawson's conclusion is predicated upon nearly four decades of clinical practice, in which he has seen over 7,000 patients representing a rich diversity of human nasal anatomy.

Distinguished Professor Jeffrey T. Laitman, PhD, also of the Icahn School of Medicine and director of the Center for Anatomy and Functional Morphology, and Eric Delson, PhD, director of the New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology or NYCEP, are also co-authors and are seasoned paleoanthropologists, each approaching their fifth decade of studying Neanderthals. Dr. Delson has published on various aspects of human evolution since the early 1970's.

Dr. Laitman states that this article is a significant contribution to the question of Neanderthal cold adaptation in the nasal region, especially in its identification of a different mosaic of features than those of cold-adapted modern humans. Dr. Laitman's body of work has shown that there are clear differences in the vocal tract proportions of these fossil humans when compared to modern humans. This current contribution has now identified potentially species-level differences in nasal structure and function.

Dr. Laitman said, "The strength of this new research lies in its taking the totality of the Neanderthal nasal complex into account, rather than looking at a single feature. By looking at the complete morphological pattern, we can conclude that Neanderthals are our close relatives, but they are not us."

Ian Tattersall, PhD, emeritus curator of the Division of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History, an expert on Neanderthal anatomy and functional morphology who did not participate in this study, stated, "Márquez and colleagues have carried out a most provocative and intriguing investigation of a very significant complex in the Neanderthal skull that has all too frequently been overlooked." Dr. Tattersall hopes that "with luck, this research will stimulate future research demonstrating once and for all that Homo neanderthalensis deserves a distinctive identity of its own."

Explore further: Sunlight adaptation region of Neanderthal genome found in up to 65 percent of modern East Asian population

More information: The article in The Anatomical Record is entitled, "The Nasal Complex of Neanderthals: An Entry Portal to their Place in Human Ancestry." It is available online at: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ar.23040/full

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barakn
4.6 / 5 (8) Nov 18, 2014
How these people define a 'species' is nebulous and unscientific. If one uses an objective measure, such as co-location and the capability of interbreeding and producing fertile hybrids, it's all one species.
Shootist
3 / 5 (4) Nov 18, 2014
How these people define a 'species' is nebulous and unscientific. If one uses an objective measure, such as co-location and the capability of interbreeding and producing fertile hybrids, it's all one species.


Dromedaries can breed with llamas and produce viable offspring. Yet they are as separate as horses and donkeys who cannot (except very rarely apparently).
NOM
3.9 / 5 (7) Nov 18, 2014
I imagine a similar debate to the neanderthal nose in a few hundred years over the denier forehead. Scientists will be claiming that the thick denier forehead was an evolutionary adaption to climate stress.
highlowsel
5 / 5 (3) Nov 18, 2014
Hmmm....I always thought one defining aspect to a species is its members being able to breed only with each other. So how does this "jive" with the historical fact that Neaderthals and modern humans could interbreed? Indeed there are DNA remnants within all of us that attest to this breeding. Granted it might have been akin to a Poodle breeding with a Great Dane but a dog is a dog....as a species it's allowed. And in the case of humans rabbits don't have anything on us when it comes to breeding.....Or am I over-thinking this? ;-)

Highlow
American Net'Zen
N6NQR
1 / 5 (1) Nov 18, 2014
"Neanderthals" are always portrayed as slow or stupid. I wonder if the occasional introduction of different DNA (slow or otherwise), didn't add to the Human Genome's variability and abilities, which was eventually absorbed or out-populated by other Humans.
KI Time
1.2 / 5 (5) Nov 18, 2014
The skeleton pictures are a complete and shameful lie. Neanderthals are one of four known hominid species all of which are not even close to human. Hominid skeletons have funnel shaped rib cages. Not cylindrical like humans. Hominid skulls are completely different from human skulls. Hominid arms are much much longer than human arms. Hominid bones are much sturdier than humans. What purpose does producing obfuscating articles like this serve ???
Blueboy1
4.2 / 5 (5) Nov 18, 2014
Shootist - ....... if horses and donkeys cannot interbreed (except very rarely, apparently)', ya' gott'a wonder where all those millions of mules came from.
flashgordon
2.5 / 5 (2) Nov 18, 2014
Finaly, someone is doing something scientifically significant about Neanderthals and early Homo Sapiens - what's the relation between Neanderthals and Homo Erectus . . . not to mention Homo Erectus.

Now, we have something suggesting both the Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens evolved from Homo Erectus.
KDK
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 18, 2014
We have had good evidence for quite some time that the 3 main erectus lines, African, Asian, and European (neanderthals) split apart at least 180k years ago and diverged from there evolutionarily. Then, with the Toba eruption, African erectus faced extreme selection pressure from 74 thousand years ago, creating a very rapid advancement trend, the resulting sapiens had to capacity to migrate almost universally crushing all competitors in their path. Not difficult, as described in Living With Evolution or Dying Without It.
sennekuyl
5 / 5 (1) Nov 18, 2014
Blueboy1: Shootist said viable (able to reproduce) offspring. So while donkeys and horses can breed, the offspring tend to be sterile. Mules continue to be produced mostly by breeding horses and donkeys.

It is expected that something similar happened with neanderthals and humans: copulation rarely produced offspring that weren't sterile.
JVK
1 / 5 (6) Nov 18, 2014
http://www.amnh.o...ttersall

"Ian Tattersall currently maintains an active research interest in species variety and higher-taxa relationships within both the hominid and lemuriform primate groups. He finds it curious that he is considered an extreme splitter in the hominid domain and an enthusiastic lumper in the lemur one, despite applying pretty consistent standards across the board."

Diet as driver and constraint in human evolution http://www.scienc...1400236X

The title suggests what's portrayed in Nutrient-dependent/pheromone-controlled adaptive evolution: a model http://www.ncbi.n...24693353
cinnamonape
4.3 / 5 (6) Nov 18, 2014
The important thing to remember is that speciation is a process, not an event. At no point will there be a magic level in which we will be able to say that all members or one group cannot breed and produce viable offspring with another. Very likely the initial contact period 50-60,000 years ago allowed considerable hybridization. This allowed some Neanderthal genes to enter the human lineages. But because SOME of the hybrids were of lower fitness there would be an increase in social and physical reproductive barriers. This happens with other species. If there is some reduction of fitness in the admixed offspring then those adults that avoid crossmating will do better. In some cases pre-zygotic sterility will be favored, because investing a longer pregnancy only to have it miscarry or be incapable of surviving, will be costly. Also identifying the "other" as inappropriate will be favored. There will be the evolution of signals, or species specific marks or scent or cultural signals.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.4 / 5 (5) Nov 18, 2014
"Neanderthals" are always portrayed as slow or stupid. I wonder if the occasional introduction of different DNA (slow or otherwise), didn't add to the Human Genome's variability and abilities, which was eventually absorbed or out-populated by other Humans.
Neanderthal reproduction most likely became seasonal. The farther north a species resides, the more seasonal its reproduction becomes.

Neanderthal was faced with an invasive tropical enemy which could reproduce year-round. Cromags could grow pops and replace battle losses faster. Neanderthal was outgrown and overrun, the males killed and eaten, the females incorporated. Same old story.
TegiriNenashi
1 / 5 (1) Nov 18, 2014
I thought that calling someone "chimp" or "neanderthal" is not progressive way of thinking?
JVK
1 / 5 (8) Nov 18, 2014
There will be the evolution of signals, or species specific marks or scent or cultural signals.


No experimental evidence suggests that species-specific signals evolve. All experimental evidence shows they are nutrient-dependent and that the metabolism of nutrients is responsible for species specificity and ecological speciation.

Species-Specific http://www.the-sc...pecific/
JVK
1 / 5 (7) Nov 18, 2014
Epigenetics in Alternative Pre-mRNA Splicing http://www.scienc...10013784

From Fertilization to Adult Sexual Behavior http://www.hawaii...ion.html From our section on molecular epigenetics

"Small intranuclear proteins also participate in generating alternative splicing techniques of pre-mRNA and, by this mechanism, contribute to sexual differentiation in at least two species, Drosophila melanogaster and Caenorhabditis elegans (Adler and Hajduk, 1994; de Bono, Zarkower, and Hodgkin, 1995; Ge, Zuo, and Manley, 1991; Green, 1991; Parkhurst and Meneely, 1994; Wilkins, 1995; Wolfner, 1988). That similar proteins perform functions in humans suggests the possibility that some human sex differences may arise from alternative splicings of otherwise identical genes."

Epigenetics, not mutations, link amino acid substitutions to differences in cell types of all species.
cinnamonape
5 / 5 (5) Nov 19, 2014
JVK~ Your articles are about sexual differentiation…not speciation.

Remember that we've been sexually differentiated organisms since our ancestors were basal chordates, if not longer. So it's quite likely we inherit a common pool of genetic systems that maintain that. And "alternative splicings" are mutations, simply not single base substitutions. Alternative splicings can be inherited. As well, we know that additional effects of differentiation in mammals are related to the SRY gene on the Y-chromosome.

Many people mistakenly believe that epigenetics are some sort of Lamarkian inheritance system.

I don't know why you are posting this on a topic line about Neanderthals and humans and whether they are distinct species. Care to link the two subjects together.
Uncle Ira
4.6 / 5 (9) Nov 19, 2014
I don't know why you are posting this on a topic line about Neanderthals and humans and whether they are distinct species. Care to link the two subjects together.


It has to do with attracting the Neanderthal boyfriend using the stinky love potion. You want a stinky boyfriend? Well you got to buy the stinky love potions from the JVK-Skippy's interweb store.
cinnamonape
5 / 5 (5) Nov 19, 2014
JVK~ Your article about species-specific differences is about differences between MICE and Humans. Once again the investigators have failed to demonstrate that speciation is related to epigenetics.

Humans didn't evolve from a subpopulation of mice, after all.

Now if they had discovered that two sibling species of mice differed by these epigenetic systems, and that simply acquiring that system in individuals produced a new species…then it would support your thesis.

Ernst Mayr and others have shown that hundreds of species are differentiated by, and identify each other by. subtle pheromones, colors (birds), calls, and behaviors. These signals are found in sibling species, and one finds smaller differences in isolated populations or individuals. The phenotypic (and underlying genetic) variation is present within populations, but most of these don't appear to have any logical effect on survivorship.

pandora4real
4 / 5 (2) Nov 19, 2014
Tekiri, Shootist, Otto... We are NOT the same species. Speciation happens. There are hundreds of species that could interbreed and choose never to do so. We accept that as a basis for speciation. The way your limbic system interacts with demonstrably less cognitive functioning leads to a significant enough difference that we could not interbreed successfully.

Fortunately, I'm for giving animals, chimps and archeohumans more rights. Even Austrolamericanapithecus.
pandora4real
5 / 5 (1) Nov 19, 2014
How does the author jump from "not do to nasal inferiority" to "likely competition with modern humans"? New dating is corroborating the hypothesis that Neanderthals were extinct in Europe before the current wave of African migration to Europe by modern humans happened. They interacted in the Middle East, THEN modern humans went to Europe were Neanderthal was already extinct. Look at the re-dating studies. You can't support a date after 50,000 bpa for Neanderthals in Europe or before that for modern humans (this batch) in Europe.

Cave art in the far East is demonstrating that modern humans were advanced enough to have been competing with Neanderthals in Africa. If competition was the reason, why do they last as long were there are lots of modern humans as where there were none?

There are plenty of other factors like a lack of genetic diversity or overly efficient mitochondria that didn't adapt fast enough when the climate warmed.
billpress11
1.5 / 5 (4) Nov 19, 2014
Maybe we got things backwards. Could it be we devolved from Neanderthals?
mjjacc1986
Nov 19, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (4) Nov 19, 2014
Tekiri, Shootist, Otto... We are NOT the same species. Speciation happens. There are hundreds of species that could interbreed and choose never to do so
-Like lions and tigers for instance, who naturally hate each other. I like to think of it as 'the urge to diverge', the beginning of speciation.

Groups living in slightly different environs adapt over many gens at the expense of many individuals which died before they could reproduce. This cost of adaptation could be lost if groups were free to intermingle.

And so intermingling is resisted. This is the basis of tribalism in humans. The next tribe over is always considered a little less human than yours, and the tendency is always to fight rather than cooperate.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.5 / 5 (8) Nov 19, 2014
Neanderthals are used by persons who believe, market and push, "evolution." This only works because of the divide between evolutionists and creationists. The truth is not found in the theory of evolution, but, rather found in the stories regards creation. Neanderthals came into extistence during the destruction of the tower of babel. GOD destroyed the tower of babel as written in His-story, what is missing from the bible, but found in other written accounts is that GOD "caused some of those involved in the building ot the tower of babel to become Ape-like" these humans were immediately transformed into "Ape-like" beings
Really? Please describe their lineage from adam.
This account is both sensible and accurate
-except that its ignorant and wrong. I like how religionists use their imaginations to rationalize all sorts of nonsense, and think that it comes directly from god because theyre so devout. Scientists in contrast look for evidence to interpret.
cinnamonape
5 / 5 (5) Nov 19, 2014
"Humans and Neanderthals may have coexisted in Europe for more than 5,000 years, providing ample time for the two species to meet and mix, according to new research.
Using new carbon dating techniques and mathematical models, researchers examined about 200 samples found at 40 sites from Spain to Russia, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. They concluded with a high probability that pockets of Neanderthal culture survived until between 41,030 and 39,260 years ago.

Although this puts the disappearance of Neanderthals earlier than some scientists previously thought, the findings support the idea that they lived alongside humans, who arrived in Europe about 45,000-43,000 years ago.

"We believe we now have the first robust timeline that sheds new light on some of the key questions around the possible interactions between Neanderthals and modern humans," said Thomas Higham, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford who led the study.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (8) Nov 19, 2014
Neanderthals are used by persons who believe, market and push, "evolution." This only works because of the divide between evolutionists and creationists
@mjjacc1986
no... it "works" because science, by definition, has to have evidence of something before it can move up the ladder from Hypothesis to Theory. The Theory of Evolution is based upon sound experimental evidence as well as visible anatomical/skeletal/fossil remains and continues to advance with more evidence daily
creationists, by definition, have NO evidence and rely upon a falsified document which was a series of stories not authored by the authors attributed to the stories and has no basis in reality as there is no evidence proving it real... NOT ONE PIECE

go push your religion elsewhere
it has NO PLACE in science
Grasshopper
2 / 5 (4) Nov 19, 2014
How these people define a 'species' is nebulous and unscientific. If one uses an objective measure, such as co-location and the capability of interbreeding and producing fertile hybrids, it's all one species.


As species themselves are inherently nebulous, I don't really think your comment holds much weight.
barakn
5 / 5 (3) Nov 20, 2014
In other words, you are incapable of defining a species. I guess that makes the concept of species completely useless. Let's edit wikipedia and remove every single reference to species.
OZGuy
4.3 / 5 (6) Nov 20, 2014
mjjacc1986 == TROLL
downvote, report then ignore.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
4.7 / 5 (6) Nov 20, 2014
Looks like tendentious research, pitting arbitrary fossil differences ("fossil species") against the genetics of biological species. Specialists like Pääbo, Hawks and Coyne (biological species specialist) comes down (or sidesteps: Pääbo) on the "same biological species, but with differences" side:

"On this basis, anthropologist John Hawks deems Neandertals, modern humans, and Denisovans members of the same species; Gibbons quotes him as saying "They mated with each other. We'll call them the same species." ... So I don't agree with Svante Pääbo, who is quoted by Gibbons as saying "I think discussion of what is a species and what is a subspecies is a sterile academic endeavor."" [Coyne: https://whyevolut...oraries/ ]
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (5) Nov 20, 2014
Heck, for that matter, lions and tigers are still close enough to mate and produce offspring, though (as with mules) they're generally sterile. So I really do think there's quite a bit of variation, and some consequent inconsistencies in the definition from one place to another, in the literature, and in the discipline.

In this particular application, I find it credible to call H. Erectus, H. Neanderthalensis, and Denisovans "human" and let the archeologists duke it out over the precise degree of difference; in this case, it appears that, in fact, discussion of what is and is not a species is sterile. I don't know that I accept the general principle though. ;)
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (4) Nov 20, 2014
@N6NQR: Pääbo has started to look at advantages in Neanderthals. A lot of the surviving alleles revolve around immune system and sperm competition. The former would be Asian/Europe adaptations; the latter the start of species separation. A known advantage we got from these groups is the Tibetan low pressure resistance, it evolved in Denisovans.

@flashgordon: The discussion is if we can't place Neanderthals and Denisovans within Homo Sapiens. The early humans found in Spain has an unknown, very early lineage introgression. Simplest prediction from known fossils is back-crossing with Erectus.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (5) Nov 20, 2014
@KDK: Neanderthals is Homo sapiens neanderthalensis possibly, not Homo erectus. (No proper biological species attribution yet, besides the old fossil species one.) The Toba eruption didn't make a blip in the surrounding populations or cultures.

@cinnamonape: Trace JVK back and you can see that he has/had a site for selling pheromones. It is a troll of spam and/or nuttery.

@TGO: "Sensible", the creationist says? Unless it is "sensible" to propose lies such as the existence of a single human breeder pair bottleneck, when the bottleneck was at least 12 000 humans, it is utter crap on making claims on nature. And pure superstition, nonetheless.
bluehigh
1 / 5 (5) Nov 20, 2014
Captain, times are a changing.

from Hypothesis to Theory.
- CS

Talking with some students recently and I was astonished to learn that they are told ..

Hypothesis, Test, Fact.
(or not, I suppose).

No more Theory. Just .. A Fact.

Just repeating what I hear, FYI.
Shootist
not rated yet Nov 22, 2014
Blueboy1: Shootist said viable (able to reproduce) offspring. So while donkeys and horses can breed, the offspring tend to be sterile. Mules continue to be produced mostly by breeding horses and donkeys.

It is expected that something similar happened with neanderthals and humans: copulation rarely produced offspring that weren't sterile.


And I get a 1 while you get a 5. LOL

There ain't no justice.
EnricM
not rated yet Nov 24, 2014

Neanderthal was faced with an invasive tropical enemy which could reproduce year-round. Cromags could grow pops and replace battle losses faster. Neanderthal was outgrown and overrun, the males killed and eaten, the females incorporated. Same old story.


Well, that is not so easy. We always tend to think in terms of moderm "tribes", hordes or nations. While this wasn't so clear. They were no such thing as an "army of modern humans" and much less a nation, just loss groups of hunter gatherers surely dressed and equippend in such different ways that they wouldn't have been able to tell a H.s.n from an H.s.s
And cannibalism has never been a good strategy as it implies too many risks for a very small return.

There is an easier way of archieving a similar result in a proper hunter-gathere scenario with small groups passively outcompeting each other while at the same time interbreeding and even trading. H.s.n seems to have required double as much food than H.s.s

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