In a fascinating story today, scientists revealed that they had successfully extracted DNA from the fossilized remains of Neanderthals.
As a backdrop: while it was originally postulated that Neanderthals were predecessors of modern man, in the last few decades it has come to be accepted that in fact, homo sapiens and Neanderthals were peers, that they existed at the same time, but that Neanderthals, who were better suited to life in the previous ice age, suffered as the earth warmed, finally dying out roughly 30,000 years ago.
However, the prevailing belief had been that one of the factors that made homo sapiens successful in the evolutionary sense the gene FOXP2, which is considered the basic gene for speech.
However, the scientists in Germany have now determined that the Neanderthals possessed this gene as well.
Interesting work has been done with this gene. There are current studies in which it has been given to mice. The rodents do not develop speech, however they make distinctly different sounds than those without the gene.
Perhaps even more fascinating is the fact that the scientists stated that they would soon be able to map the entire Neanderthal DNA.
What the ultimate meaning of the discovery is, is most likely this. Initially it was thought that Neanderthals and humans separated approximately 200-250,000 years ago, evolutionarily.
The new evidence indicates that they must have split perhaps as much as 100,000 years earlier than that.
So, the question becomes who was our common ancestor?
The concept of the original split derived because it was believed that after the split, humans developed this gene. Now, the realization is tht the split occurred after this gene was developed.
Isn’t science amazing?