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Why is there only one human species?

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German Scientists Bring Fossils into the Computer Age

Researchers in Leipzig are compiling a ground-breaking digital archive of artefacts from around the world. Created to contrast Neanderthals with modern man, the archive could revolutionize their field -- which is exactly why many oppose it.

'Visitors are greeted by three skulls with seashells in their eye sockets. On a table behind them, a student completes a detailed drawing of the teeth in a human jaw.

The bone chamber lies behind a simple steel door on the ground floor. Located right next to the delivery entrance of the anatomy institute at Tel Aviv University, what looks like a janitor's storeroom is actually one of the world's largest treasure troves of human history.

Nestled on foam within blue storage drawers are all sorts of crumbling bones, including arm bones, leg bones, wrist bones, ribs, jaw bones, children's skulls and a range of teeth. These are one-of-a-kind fossils that reveal a key episode in the history of the human species.

Paleoanthropologists have excavated the bones of some three dozen individuals from the rocks in caves in northern Israel. What's unique about their find is that the bones come from two different species of man. They indicate that modern man and Neanderthals once lived hardly a stone's throw away from each other.

This raises a number of questions: Did the two cousins live here at the same time? Did they interact? Did the two rivals have their first showdown for world domination right here in the Levant? (given the current and historical aggression of the middle east, did that showdown ever end??)

Historic Intercourse

Last year's decoding of the Neanderthal's genetic makeup provided strong evidence in support of this thesis. Researchers working under Svante Pääbo, the director of the Department of Genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, found that modern Eurasians inherited a small portion of their DNA sequence from Neanderthals (but they didn't want anyone to know semitic people (middle east and south central europe) have the highest percentage of Neanderthal DNA even though the breeding hotspot is shown clearly in the map image above - the heartland of semitic people). This suggests that the two species of man must have had sexual intercourse.

What's more, the genetic researchers were also able to narrow down the timeframe of this momentous genetic intermingling. According to their findings, the intercourse took place between 65,000 and 90,000 years after modern man set foot on the Eurasian landmass, presumably on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean. (it only happened once?? haha the neanderthal were still around until quite recently)

Scientists are now trying to determine the exact relationship the inhabitants of these Israeli caves had with the forefathers of modern-day Eurasians. In particular, they are examining the fossil remains to see if there are traces of the interaction between the two species.


Despite these positive aspects, Hershkovitz insists he is still a fan of the old-school way of doing things. He views the work of his colleagues in Leipzig as "all too virtual."

Indeed, Hershkovitz sees himself as a champion of the archaeologists who have amassed all the treasures in his collection. Most of them have toiled away in the field for years or even decades, Hershkovitz explains, before finally being able to bring home a handful of bones. And now others are supposed to use virtual copies to harvest the scientific fruits of their labor? In Hershkovitz's mind, anthropologists are merely "scavengers who feed off the sweat of archaeologists."

Most importantly, though, the Israeli curator feels uneasy about the influence of his Leipzig-based colleagues. "We have seen the rise of a mega-center of prehistoric man research," Hershkovitz says, and one that is increasingly setting the direction of new trends in paleoanthropology. "Too much power in a single place can be dangerous," he says.

He worries that people who want to work on his fossils might eventually be forced to travel to Leipzig instead of coming to Tel Aviv.'

Edited by botanika

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