As everyone should know by now, all modern humans descended from populations that left Africa are also partially descended from our late cousins, the Neanderthals. A paper published a couple of weeks ago in PLoS One comes to the unsurprising conclusion that North Africans also have the same mixed ancestry. Today we have an article called Neandertal DNA Research Confirms Full Human Status. It’s by Jeff Tomkins, who when he last commented on this subject screwed up quite impressively – this time around we have a slight improvement, at least.
The question of where Neanderthals should be classified is a legitimate issue. They are traditionally considered to be their own, separate species – Homo neanderthalensis, where we are of course Homo sapiens. But an alternative method is to give Neanderthals a subspecies level status, as Homo sapiens neanderthalensis. While I’m a long way from being any kind of expert, this is a form that I’m quite fond of. However that being said that classification makes us Homo sapiens sapiens, and even one “wise” is frankly one too many.
There are a number of things going for the subspecies idea. Certain stricter definition of the very concept of a “species” have it that if two populations can at all viably interbreed, as we have evidence for here, then they must be the same species. There is also increasing evidence that Neanderthals weren’t the dumb brutes everyone imagines they were – they were arguably at least our equals in many of those things we think we are so great at, if not necessarily the same species as us. Even if we don’t want to extend our self-congratulatory species label to the Neanderthals it makes sense to call them, and likely many other Homo species, “human.” If we one-day found a “lost tribe” of Neanderthals (we wont) we would, from at least a moral and ethical standpoint, have to call them such. Continue reading