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The Sex Lives Of Neandertals

REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM SAPIENS.ORG

 

 

Neanderthal Bones: Signs of Their Sex Lives

By Anna Goldfield

In a cave tucked into the limestone hills of the Asturias region of Spain, there lie the remains of a group of 13 Neanderthals that date to between 50,600 and 47,300 years ago. The site is infamous among anthropologists who study the Paleolithic period for the evidence of what appears to be the massacre and possible cannibalization of a family: Their bones seem to have been hacked at by stone tools and hammers, probably by another group of Neanderthals, to remove their flesh and marrow.

But more importantly, for this story, those bones also reveal something of the sex life of the cave’s inhabitants. Anomalies and deformations, along with the DNA buried within their bones, suggest that the members of this group (and their parents) were mating with their close kin.

Lately, much news from the field of paleoarchaeology and anthropology has centered on Neanderthal bedfellows. You would be forgiven for thinking that paleoanthropologists think about little other than paleo-sex. Within the past several years, genetic evidence has emerged that Neanderthals interbred on more than one occasion with both anatomically modern humans and our newfound ancient relative, the Denisovans. One finger bone fragment from Denisova Cave in Siberia is now famous for belonging to a teenage girl who had a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father.

But evidence also shows that while some Neanderthals were apparently breeding well outside of the family group, some were also finding mates much closer to home.

In the remains from El Sidrón Cave, paleoanthropologist Luis Ríos and colleagues found 17 examples of congenital anomalies—structural malformations of various body parts that occur while an individual is developing in the womb.

One young El Sidrón individual, for example, had an oddly shaped patella, the bone that forms the kneecap: It had three lobes rather than just one. This Neanderthal probably had a limp. An adult male in the same cave had a markedly narrow nasal passage and a “retained deciduous mandibular canine,” writes Ríos and his co-authors—this adult Neanderthal never lost one of his lower canine baby teeth. That tooth developed a painful cyst, which left its mark on the bone of his jaw. Microscopic striations on the tooth itself suggest that he coped with the pain by avoiding chewing on that side of his mouth.

One possible explanation for these skeletal abnormalities is that they resulted from extremely stressful environmental conditions, such as brutally cold weather and scarce food. A pregnant mother experiencing a lot of physical stress and nutritional deprivation might give birth to an infant with some of the same conditions seen at El Sidrón.

Inbreeding leads to a problematically small gene pool.

But DNA tests from these bones indicate that inbreeding and a small population size were likely factors contributing to the physical peculiarities in this family. The 13 El Sidrón Neanderthals share much longer segments of their DNA than would be expected if they were the offspring of non-relatives.

Genetically, the three adult males in the group were closely related enough to be brothers, cousins, or uncles, while the four adult females in the group came from three distinct genetic lines. While all individuals were likely distantly related to one another (think third or fourth cousins), it is likely that the males exchanged females with another local, slightly less closely related group.

Today inbreeding carries connotations of “kissing cousins” or intimacy between even closer familial relations. But the term simply means mating between relatives, which increases the number of common ancestors in a family tree and the likelihood of inheriting deleterious genes from those common ancestors. Even third or fourth cousins are genetically similar enough for issues to arise.

The younger El Sidrón individuals (ranging in age from 5 to 15 years of age, along with one infant) were likely the offspring of at least some of the adults. At least one of these children, the young male mentioned above, possessed skeletal malformations that were likely passed down from parents who were fairly closely related.

The tangled familial ties of the El Sidrón Neanderthals are not a unique situation; DNA evidence from other Neanderthals elsewhere in Eurasia also shows elevated instances of shared DNA segments around this time, suggesting that mating between individuals who shared recent ancestors was fairly frequent, and possibly unavoidable, if local populations were small.

In general, inbreeding leads to a problematically small gene pool. Rare harmful traits that might disappear in larger populations tend to be amplified if close kin interbreed. Yet inbreeding has happened throughout human history, especially in the royal families of different cultures. Just look at the Habsburg family line in Spain or the royal families of Ancient Egypt to see the effects of keeping family bloodlines “pure.”

Neanderthals were not the only ancient hominins to mate with their close relatives. Anatomically modern humans have also been found with skeletal evidence of inbreeding, such as abnormally bowed thigh bones, deformed arm bones, and even a case of a toddler with a swollen brain case consistent with hydrocephalus.

At the time that these congenital malformations appear, between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago, modern humans were traveling out of Africa. They fanned out across vast geographical regions, and, at times, were quite isolated from one another. Populations might have been separated by hundreds of kilometers at a time, only rarely encountering one another. This might be a simple reason why inbreeding occurred: Pickings were slim.

During the time that the El Sidrón Neanderthal family occupied their cave, it is likely that they were also fairly isolated. Their mating patterns probably had much more to do with small population size and low population density than any sort of cultural practice. There is no way to know if cultural taboos against mating with close relatives existed back then.

Interestingly, most of the individuals in the El Sidrón family group lived well past infancy despite physical conditions that, in some cases, would have made it difficult for them to get around and perform their day-to-day tasks. This family cared for one another, sharing physical burdens and helping each other to survive. Their relations, and their care, are recorded in their bones.

 

This column is part of an ongoing series about the Neanderthal body: a head-to-toe tour.

This work first appeared on SAPIENS under a CC BY-ND 4.0 license. Read the original here.

 

Protein Sequencing, Not DNA, Could Be The Best Way To Reconstruct Evolution

Images: ThermoFisher Scientific

"An evolution revolution has begun after scientists extracted genetic information from a 1.77 million-year-old rhino tooth -- the largest genetic data set this old to ever be confidently recorded."

DNA analysis is no longer alone in helping us understand genetic relationships between extinct species. 

"Researchers identified an almost complete set of proteins, a proteome, in the dental enamel of the now-extinct rhino and the resulting genetic information is one million years older than the oldest DNA sequenced from a 700,000-year-old horse.

The findings by scientists from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, and St John's College, University of Cambridge, are published today in Nature. They mark a breakthrough in the field of ancient molecular studies and could solve some of the biggest mysteries of ancient animal and human biology by allowing scientists to accurately reconstruct evolution from further back in time than ever before."

 

This opens up all kinds of new opportunities to possibly get genetic information from long extinct species like Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo floresiensus, and it could help us map out the direct relationships between these species and us. Of course not all, or even many of the fossils we have discovered of those species will still contain genetic information, but the chances of finding it have just increased immensely. 

 

"Basically, this approach can tell us not only the species and the gender of an ancient fossil, but we can also draw an evolutionary line -- all from a single tooth', he says. 'Dental enamel is extremely abundant and it is highly durable, which is why a high proportion of fossil records are teeth', Enrico Cappellini adds.

'We have been able to find a way to retrieve genetic information that is more informative and reliable than any other source of comparable age before, and it's from a material that is abundant in the fossil records so the potential of the application of this approach is extensive."

 

Read the entire article here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/09/190911142731.htm

Religious Fanatics On This Day In History

Not current news, but still appropriate on this date.  From the article:
 

“God allows bad things to happen” like the September 11 attacks and the San Bernardino shootings “to show us that we need him, you know, we’re desperate without him.”

If America does not return to God, she said, we’ll keep seeing “just the chaos at every level”… such as the Justice Department’s lawsuit against North Carolina for its new discriminatory anti-LGBT law,” which she said is “evidence that God has backed away and he’s removed His hand of blessing, favor, protection, and he’s just turning us over to ourselves.”

Religious extremism and political ideology drove the attack on 9/11, it had absolutely nothing to do with secularism, trans people, or the teaching of evolution. These idiots will use every opportunity to speak out and show the world what complete fools they are though. If the Western world were run by the likes of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and this daughter of Billy Graham, it would be constant nuclear war until life as we know it ceased to exist. 

Discussing Human Origins And The Australopithecus Skull Discovery

Mark Torrender of the Talk Beliefs and Evolution Soup Channels and I talk about the recently announced discovery of a nearly complete Australopithecus anamensis skull in Ethiopia and other topics.

Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day September 21

I will be talking human origins at the Arizona Museum of Natural History from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm on Saturday, September 21 for Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day.

AzMNH is participating in Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day.


PREREGISTRATION FOR FREE ENTRY IS REQUIRED AT THE SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE WEBSITE AND TICKETS ARE LIMITED!

Museum Day is a one-day event in which participating museums and cultural institutions across the country provide free entry to anyone presenting a Museum Day ticket. Participants are allowed to download one ticket for two people for September 21, 2019. Tickets are limited.

Arizona Museum of Natural History
53 N. Macdonald
Mesa, AZ 85201

​
(One block north of Main St.)

New Weekly Show On Leaving Young Earth Creationism 1st Episode!

Last night was the first episode of my new weekly show and I give credit to my guest, Luke Douglas, for making it go so well!  Luke is the Executive Director of the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix and I've met him in person a couple of times over the past few months, once when he came to the museum where I volunteer for a tour and again when I visited the HSGP facility just a few blocks from the museum here in Mesa, AZ. In the first part of the interview he goes over what the organization is all about and his role there, then we talk about being raised as a fundamentalist Christian and how YEC and the Bill Nye/Ken Ham Debate eventually prompted him to leave his faith behind. 

There were a couple of glitches, the live chat showed up just fine initially in the StreamYard program I'm using and I tested to see if I could post to it right before we went live, but then it stopped updating. Not sure if it was because we went live or because I posted through the program but I will contact them and get that figured out. I had about 20 seconds of dead air at the beginning went we first went live so I used the online YouTube Beta Editor to remove that and it also deleted the live chat replay. If I had known it would delete the replay I would have just left it there. Live and learn, I guess.

Right now I have shows scheduled through the middle of October and others have already contacted me so it doesn't appear there will be any shortage of guests. If you have any comments or suggestions please leave them here or email me at bill@creationsciencefiction.com

 

Are Upright Trees In Volcanic Ash Evidence For Noah's Flood?

According to Mr. Kent Hovind they are. In his recent video at 31:57 he talks about a 300 million year old forest preserved by volcanic ash with trees standing up. He says "the evidence is yelling at 'em and they can't see it." He refers to different layers, then talks about "polystrate trees" and after that he goes to another slide showing distinct sedimentary layers while saying they lie to the kids saying each layer is a different age.

It is obvious the volcanic layers were laid down in a single event just like Pompeii and no one claims it takes a long time for subsequent layers to cover upright trees.  The image where he says geologists are lying shows a roadcut from Interstate I-64 near the Kentucky/West Virginia border containing alternating layers of shale, coal, sandstone, and siltstone, all of which had to have formed over time in different environments. Kent has absolutely no idea what he is looking at, there is no basis for any of his claims, and he misrepresents what geologists do say about them.

An article about the amazing preservation of the forest preserved by volcanic ash says this:

"The study site, located near Wuda, China, is unique as it gives a snapshot of a moment in time. Because volcanic ash covered a large expanse of forest in the course of only a few days, the plants were preserved as they fell, in many cases in the exact locations where they grew.

“It’s marvelously preserved,” Pfefferkorn said. “We can stand there and find a branch with the leaves attached, and then we find the next branch and the next branch and the next branch. And then we find the stump from the same tree. That’s really exciting.”

The researchers also found some smaller trees with leaves, branches, trunk and cones intact, preserved in their entirety."

No flood mentioned, no flood needed, and no evidence the ash accumulated in water as it was deposited. Another Kent Hovind fail. 

Thanks to Donald Rakovan for the email pointing this out!

 

New Fossil Helps Us Understand Transition between Ardi And Lucy

An amazing new skull with an interesting story helps us better understand the transition between Ardipithecus and Australopithecus around 4 million years ago. I'm seeing headlines like "New Fossil Shakes Up Family Tree," but this isn't a new species, just more data that can help us learn about an important transition.

National Geographic tells how the fossil was discovered:

"On this particular day, Bereino was digging an addition to a temporary goat pen when he noticed a bone exposed in the sandstone surface. Bereino got in touch with a local government official, who agreed that it might be something Haile-Selassie would find interesting.

When the official called Haile-Selassie, he remained skeptical, replying that Bereino should mark where he found the fossil and walk it over to his camp. When Bereino and the official arrived, Haile-Selassie soon realized the magnitude of the find. Bereino had found a maxilla, or upper jawbone, belonging to an ancient hominin.

Haile-Selassie immediately stopped what he was doing and walked the 2.5 miles to Bereino’s goat pen. Just feet away from where Bereino had found the maxilla, Haile-Selassie soon spotted what turned out to be most of the remaining skull. “I didn’t even pick it up, and I started jumping up and down,” Haile-Selassie says. “The [official] looked at me and told his local friends, ‘What is going on with the doctor? Is he going crazy?’”

The fossil shows both primitive (from earlier species) and derived (seen in later species) features and can definitely be considered transitional. An article announcing the discovery in NATURE outlines these features:

"By comparing A. anamensis with other species, and including their new evidence, the authors generated evolutionary family trees in which A. anamensis was consistently placed as the most ancestral of all Australopithecus species and later hominins. This result confirms previous findings6, and reflects the fact that the cranium shows predominantly primitive features — including some in parts never documented before in A. anamensis fossils. MRD has a distinctly protruding face (Fig. 1) and a notably long and narrow braincase. The latter feature is remarkably similar in this respect to that of the 7-million-year-old cranium of Sahelanthropus7, and these two species both had a small brain. The new fossil has several features that are assumed by the authors to be derived rather than primitive. Most striking is the forward projection of the cheek bones, which creates a facial appearance reminiscent of much younger Paranthropushominin species, particularly the 2.5-million-year-old Paranthropus aethiopicus8. The authors conclude that this facial characteristic evolved independently in A. anamensis and later species, but the resemblance might inspire alternative interpretations."
 

It is truly an exciting time in the study of human origins. More new discoveries have been made the past 20 years than in all previous years combined.

 

 

Creationists Rally Against "Lucy Week" That Doesn't Exist

I received the above email from Dan Biddle, President of Genesis Apologetics, last week. I got on their mailing list somehow a couple of years ago. He mentioned this week is "Lucy Week" in public schools across the nation and provides links for concerned creationist parents so they have a solution in case their child is exposed to Lucy in public school. I'm pretty sure he meant 1-2 days instead of weeks of instruction. 

I had never heard of "Lucy Week" before and a Google search confirmed there doesn't seem to be a coordinated effort by public schools or the government to promote Lucy or human evolution this week.  I posted about this on my Creation Science Fiction facebook page and others, including public school teachers, confirmed they have never heard of a Lucy Week or even a Lucy Day for any grade, let alone an event specifically for sixth graders. His claim that 6th graders will make "dioramas, life sized posters, and learn about Lucy's Kind" seems to be completely fabricated.

I replied to his email and asked

Hi Dan,

Can you provide a link to where "Lucy Week" is mentioned by the government or any public schools? I haven't seen anything advertised about it anywhere but in your emails.

Thanks,

Bill

This was his reply:

Hi Bill,

it is not a formally announced thing, it’s just that most public schools in sixth grade start out the year in the first couple weeks going over human origins and Lucy is the highlight.


Blessings,


Dan

I checked some school websites and even called our local Elementary School which is Kindergarten through Sixth Grade. They had never heard of "Lucy Week." 

I responded again and asked this:

Hi Dan,

Can you provide an example of that? It isn't happening in Arizona with the schools I asked.

Thanks,

Bill

His response was:

Hi Bill,

it may not be happening in Arizona. It depends upon when they teach the curriculum for world history and ancient civilizations which at least for California begins in sixth grade and is usually covered in the first few weeks of school.

Blessings!

Dan

It appears Dan Biddle is just making things up as he goes along, doesn't it? He sidestepped my direct questions and couldn't provide a single example to back up his assertions. I believe he fabricated the entire idea of "Lucy Week" in public schools to try and get video views and sell merchandise. The link in his email takes you to a page on their website where they feature different videos "debunking" Lucy. There is a really short one, one about 9 minutes long, and another that is an hour long.

Here's the short one:

I'm not going to go over his claims in the video as it has already been done by others many times. Talk Beliefs did an excellent response to their videos back in 2017.

Further reading on the discovery of Lucy

 

Arizona Friends - Join Me For A Great Evening In Tempe November 9!

HSGP PRESENTS AN EVENING WITH MATT DILLAHUNTY AND SETH ANDREWS

Tickets starting at only $25.00!

From the event page:

"Seth Andrews and Matt Dillahunty team up for a one-night event hosted by the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix. 

Join us for a fun evening of conversation and plenty of interaction with Seth and Matt. 
You also have the option of a VIP Dinner with Matt and Seth before the show!
We are inviting secular-friendly organizations to set up tables for networking in the reception area all evening, where Seth and Matt will be tabling and signing books as well. 

You have the opportunity to buy a ticket for Seth and Matt fans who otherwise wouldn't be able to attend. Sponsor some tickets and we will make sure they get to the people who want them.

Cash Bars in the Reception/Networking Area.

There is already a lot of excitement about this event! Click on the REGISTER NOW button at the top and bottom of this page to buy your tickets now. See below for ticket options and prices."

Click Here To Register Now

 

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