If you have read Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel (review coming later this week) you will be constantly interacting with Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon, now commonly referred to in the scientific community as Early Modern Humans (or EMH). It can help to have a little bit of a visual aid and some additional information nearby while reading – or if you are just interested in learning something new! Read on!
The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has an awesome website about early humans. Among other things there are visuals and explanations of the different fossils they have found, genetics information, timelines, and interactive features. There is a pretty awesome exploration game where you get to compare “unknown” skull fossils against “known” species to determine which species they belong to.
There has been news made lately about the Neanderthal Genome Project. With the high volume of fossils found they have been able to extract a usable amount of Neanderthal DNA. With these findings they are better able to compare Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon and even modern humans. One of these findings shows that 1-4% of the European population has some amount of Neanderthal DNA. These findings may also help shed light on why they became extinct. Various theories abound about inability to adapt to a changing environment, competition for resources with Cro-Magnon, conflicts and fighting with Cro-Magnon, and also that their genetic material became diluted when they intermixed and bred with Cro-Magnon populations.
There is still a lot to be learned about the early people that came before us and science is finding new information every day. Keep a listen out for more on the Neanderthal Genome Project in the news as that is the big thing right now.
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