Who were the Neanderthals and why did they disappear?
I found this program on Netflix streaming movies. The researchers started out just studying Neanderthals, and very simply seeing if they had the "speech" gene that modern humans have. The quest began with the task of finding some Neanderthal DNA from ancient bone samples.
The first big surprise was that Neanderthals actually had that gene, and further investigation showed that their DNA was not that different from what we know today as modern Homo Sapiens, us.
The further surprise was that modern human DNA contains generally from 1% to 4% of Neanderthal DNA, a result once thought to be impossible, because if they were different species then they could not mate and reproduce. But Neanderthal DNA present in modern humans forced them to rethink everything.
The final data compared percent Neanderthal DNA by country of origin, using quite a number of volunteers. The surprising result was that Europeans, the region where most Neanderthal artifacts have been found, along with Asians, have the highest percentages of Neanderthal DNA, leading to the conclusion that as Homo Sapiens (Latin for 'wise man') migrated 40,000 years ago into southern Europe, they encountered Neanderthals and actually mated with them to reproduce.
For years it has been thought that Neanderthals went extinct over an approximate 10,000 year period, killed off by the more intelligent Homo Sapiens. But this new research leads to a better conclusion, that Neanderthals, with their much smaller numbers, simply got absorbed into the general population, dominated by Homo Sapiens, over the generations.
This program is a great look into who the Neanderthals might have been and how they might have become extinct.
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