Handsome by Chance

Aug 02, 2007

Chance, not natural selection, best explains why the modern human skull looks so different from that of its Neanderthal relative, according to a new study led by Tim Weaver, assistant professor of anthropology at UC Davis.

The study appears in the August issue of the Journal of Human Evolution.

"For 150 years, scientists have tried to decipher why Neanderthal skulls are different from those of modern humans," Weaver said. "Most accounts have emphasized natural selection and the possible adaptive value of either Neanderthal or modern human traits. We show that instead, random changes over the past 500,000 years or so – since Neanderthals and modern humans became isolated from each other – are the best explanation for these differences."

Weaver and his colleagues compared cranial measurements of 2,524 modern human skulls and 20 Neanderthal specimens, then contrasted those results with genetic information from a separate sample of 1,056 modern humans.

The scientists concluded that Neanderthals did not develop their protruding mid-faces as an adaptation to icy Pleistocene weather or the demands of using teeth as tools, and the retracted faces of modern humans are not an adaptation for language, as some anthropologists have proposed.

Instead, random "genetic drift" is the likeliest reason for these skull differences.

Weaver conducted the research with Charles Roseman, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London.

Source: UC Davis

Explore further: How an RNA gene silences a whole chromosome

Related Stories

Tinder, Vice honored in online Webby awards

29 minutes ago

The online dating app Tinder was this year's "breakout" Internet service while bad-boy news website Vice Media got multiple honors in the "Webby" awards announced Monday.

Preventing a Fukushima disaster in Europe

1 hour ago

Improved safety management and further collaboration between experts is required to minimise the risk of flooding at coastal nuclear plants in Europe.

Recommended for you

How an RNA gene silences a whole chromosome

4 minutes ago

Researchers at Caltech have discovered how an abundant class of RNA genes, called long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs, pronounced link RNAs) can regulate key genes. By studying an important lncRNA, called Xist, ...

Single cells seen in unprecedented detail

2 hours ago

Researchers have developed a large-scale sequencing technique called Genome and Transcriptome Sequencing (G&T-seq) that reveals, simultaneously, the unique genome sequence of a single cell and the activity ...

Conifer study illustrates twists of evolution

2 hours ago

A new study offers not only a sweeping analysis of how pollination has evolved among conifers but also an illustration of how evolution—far from being a straight-ahead march of progress—sometimes allows ...

Bumblebees use nicotine to fight off parasites

2 hours ago

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL), gave bumblebees the option to choose between a sugar solution with nicotine in it and one without. ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.