February 9, 2012

Maybe we've got this whole Neanderthal thing backwards

Neanderthals are popularly associated with brutishness, so it was interesting when anthropologist John Hawks wondered what current population, subnational-level, apparently has the most Neanderthal ancestry. 

Try to guess. Answer after the break.

The Tuscans have the highest level of Neandertal similarity of any of the 1000 Genomes Project samples.

Tuscans are the people of Tuscany: e.g., Florence, Siena, Pisa, the home of the Renaissance. Famous Tuscans include Dante, Brunelleschi, Puccini, and three of the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Donatello, Leonardo, and Michelangelo. 

Before they were Tuscans, they were Etruscans, rivals of Rome. Like the Tuscans, the Etruscans had a sophisticated and pleasant artistic tradition. Estrucan legends said they came to Italy from what's now Turkey. Scholars of course assumed that was just myth, like they do with everything cool (Troy never existed, it's just a metaphor for trade disputes). But recent genetic studies have supported the old stories.

The difference in Neanderthal similarity between say Tuscans and Finns is tiny and some other groups not sampled may eventually turn out to have higher amounts of Neanderthal background.

44 comments:

Anonymous said...

Special.

Anonymous said...

Like the Tuscans, the Etruscans had a sophisticated and pleasant artistic tradition. Estrucan legends said they came to Italy from what's now Turkey
the scottish - no not our 'scots irish' - the actual scottish - have a legend that they were/are scythians

Anonymous said...

@anon 7:16 - ok sweetheart, that was interesting but what did it have to do with the post?

Anonymous said...

Galileo had a hand in the development of the scientific method. Guido of Arezzo invented modern musical notation. Brunelleschi developed graphical perspective. Dante was instrumental in the rebirth of Western literature. It seems that they invented eye glasses and double-entry bookkeeping too.

By the way, Romans thought that Etruscans were too fond of luxury, too self-indulgent, not stern and hardy enough.

Anonymous said...

I've heard the latest impression of Neanderthals is that they had larger forebrains than contemporary humans, but didn't have anywhere near the level of speech capacity. So they didn't trade, didn't form larger, more effective bands, and higher individual intelligence / planning ability didn't help them that much.

Anonymous said...

In his recent history of the Latin language, "Ad Infinitum", Nicholas Ostler shed some light on Roman attitudes to Etruscans through the words they borrowed from them.

After a list of borrowings of sartorial terms, he writes:

"Cosmetics were naturally an Etruscan thing: "cerussa" (white lead), "purpurissum" (purple), "mundus" (toiletries). Even the word "pulcher" (beautiful) may be an Etruscan loan.

The kind of urbanite who would wear this stuff was termed by an Etruscan word too, "scurra". The characteristic Roman attitude to such people can still be felt in the derived adjective "scurrilous": in Latin they were a byword for tasteless - because disrespectful - humor." Insults to another's intelligence evidently tripped off the tongue in Etruscan: they could call an idiot "barginna", "bargus", bucco", or "baro"..."

-----

In general the Etruscan type for the Roman was one who enjoyed the soft and easy things in life to excess: likely to be an "aleo" (gambler), "ganeo" (glutton), "helluo" (splurger), "lurcho" (guzzler), or "levenna" (wimp), consorting with "lenones" (pimps), "lenae" (madams), "carisae" (foxy ladies) and "paelices" (tarts), in the "lustra" (brothels) of Rome, and probably resorting to "calumnia" (name-calling) and the services of a petty-fogging "rabula" (shyster) if ever you should cross him. At least his self-indulgent "madulsa" (binge) would be likely to leave him suffering the torments of "crapula" (hangover) in the morning.

The only good thing about the type, Roman traditionalists might have felt, was that special virtues correlated with their vices: their mastery in the arts of the "culina" (kitchen) was second to none..."

A long list of culinary terms borrowed by Latin from Etruscan follows.

The impression created by most of this (in me; Ostler is too PC to say this) is of an originally northern people (the Romans) looking at a Mediterranean one (the Etruscans).

Anonymous said...

The Neanderthal insult basically says "You're acting like a primitive human." It compares humans now to humans back then. When Neanderthals were contemporary, of course, it's quite possible THEY were the smartest dudes around.

People don't seem to get that, so when it turned out that whites had more Neanderthal blood, SWPLers rushed to say "Hey, looks like you have the most primitive ancestors!" Well, not really. Ceteris paribus, you'd want more Neanderthal blood in your ancestry, though not, of course, any time recently.

Daybreaker said...

It's no surprise neanderthals have been associated with brutishness, since their descendants (at least the White ones) are also demonized as racist brutes.

But the real flaw of the neanderthals was their excessively big brains, which enabled them to defer reproduction in favor of getting the family on a sound economic footing first. Of course in the neanderthal age, security was hard to come by. And so those relatively small-brained, fast breeding, aggressive, clannish cro magnons seized the future.

Anonymous said...

Shortly after the studies came out showing Neanderthal DNA in modern Europeans, I happened to find myself in the 'Origins of Man' area of a museum.
Alongside the wall chart showing the evolutionary 'dead end' of the NM and other early hominids, there was a montage of mugshots of various diverse modern humans as well as artists' impressions of the extinct guys.
As it turned out, none of the modern human examples looked white, but the recreation of the Neanderthal looked EXACTLY like my French buddy, Yves.

We are all untermenschen now, brother.
Gilbert Pinfold.

Anonymous said...

Of course, the Etruscans ad an enormous influence on the foundation and growth of Rome, the first kings, the Tarquins, were Etruscans.
Unlike all the other Italianate languages (eg Latin, Oscan, Umbrian etc)Etruscan is a non Indo-European language.Its origin and relations has defied all analysis.

Anonymous said...

Actually, come to think of it the Italian peninsula is quite a cut-off outlier from the rest of continental Europe.The land border to the north is barred by some fearsome mountains.Furthermore, the hinterland of Italy is mountainous, just surmising that old populations could have held out in the mountain fastness.
On a related note, in the province of Matera, south Italy locals lived in caves until the 1970s.Archaeologists have established that the caves were continuously inhabited for tens of thousands of years.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I would have thought that Ireland would have had the highest percentage of neanderthal genes - I don't know if Ireland was tested.
Being isolated on the very western periphery of the Eurasian landmass, I would have thought Ireland would carry the most 'archaic' genes and the fewest of newer alien stocks arising from the landmass.
Anyway, I've heard it said that red hair (which has its genetic epicenter in Ireland) was a neanderthal trait.

IHTG said...

Anonymous 8:46 PM:
But Tuscany is, in fact, to the north of Rome.

Conatus said...

In the 1996 novel 'Neanderthal' by the NYT reporter John Darnton he concludes on p. 384 of the paperback version by saying the Homo Sapiens won because "he is duplicitous. That he cheats. That he lies. And therefore that he always wins."

This is somewhat similar to Robert Trivers recent book 'The Folly of Fools' where he details human lying both to others and ourselves. Interestingly, on p. 243 of that book he has a few pages entitled 'First line of defense: cry "Anti-Semite."

I guess things haven't changed much in 250,000 years.

bruce banner said...

It seems Neanderthals were the first artists on record:

http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2012/02/42000-year-old-art-from-andalusia.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2097869/The-oldest-work-art-42-000-year-old-paintings-seals-Spanish-cave.html

So much for their brutishness....

Daybreaker said...

"We are all untermenschen now, brother.
Gilbert Pinfold."

Yes we are.

Robert said...

Troy exists. It's on the south side of the entrance to the Dardenales in Turkey.
http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?q=+turkey&hl=en&ll=39.956793,26.25432&spn=0.064805,0.132093&sll=51.479648,-0.144278&sspn=0.421222,1.056747&hnear=Turkey&t=m&z=14

Interestingly on the opposite shore to another famously wasteful WWI seige that sought to control the same waterway 3000 years later (Gallipoli). You can visit the excavated ruins of Troy and see how it evolved as a city over several thousand years until it was lost and buried only to be rediscovered in modern times.

Anonymous said...

Troy exists. It's on southern side of the narrow entrance to the Sea of Marmaris in Turkey.
http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?q=+turkey&hl=en&ll=39.956793,26.25432&spn=0.064805,0.132093&sll=51.479648,-0.144278&sspn=0.421222,1.056747&hnear=Turkey&t=m&z=14

3000 years after the Homeric sack of Troy, Gallipoli (WWI) was fought on the northern shore of these narrows for exactly the same strategic reasons.

Troy was buried but rediscovered in modern times. In the classical era it was something of a tourist spot for Romans. It has been excavated so that you can see how it developed as a city over several thousand years from early bronze to early iron age, with evolving improvements in the masonry of the walls as a result of better tools, and the lower stone walls being topped with brick. You can even stand on the spot outside the front gates where Achilles and Hector would have fought. The wooden horse is nowadays thought to have been a siege machine used to penetrate the high walls.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 8:12 By the way, Romans thought that Etruscans were too fond of luxury, too self-indulgent, not stern and hardy enough.

Interestingly, that is exactly how the modern Perians view the West.

JSM said...

Ok,

I've found my Cause -- speaking out against anti-Neanderthal racism. My people have been oppressed!

Anonymous said...

Neandatello.

Jim said...

In response to second annonymous -
Yes there is some reason to believe
that Etruscans may have migrated from Anatolia. As to the Scythians
the little we know of them indicates that they probably belonged to the Indo-Iranian branch
of Indo-European.

Anonymous said...

Reneanaissance.

Marlowe said...

I guessed Basque. I'd never considered Tuscans an independent ethnicity on the same basis so thanks for the information.

Drawbacks said...

Lolz @ daybreaker. As it happens, my new movie When Protestants Roamed The Earth is based on a very similar premise and combines the best bits of Idiocracy, Planet of the Apes, Jurassic Park and Olivier Gruner classic, Angel Town.
Everything's shot, edited, printed and ready to go. Just waiting for the distributors to return my call. Tick-Tock.

Anonymous said...

I also heard Neanderthals = autistic = nerds.

Drawbacks said...

Incidentally, I once saw English writer Howard Jacobson make a persuasive case that it was no coincidence that the hook-nosed devil masks in a Lithuanian museum had similar schnozzes to his own.
Years later I saw a BBC show where Nigel Spivey went into excavated Etruscan tombs. He said that the murals in the early tombs were all sweetness and light - pastoral bliss in the afterworld. The later tombs had similar scenes, and also devouring devils, with a familiar look, but these fiends had Roman noses rather than Hebrew ones, the threat posed by the Etruscans' southern neighbours by this time seeming all too vivid.
Of course, even if the original image was based on Romans, it could be that the resemblance to Jews supported its continuing popularity, or even re-invention.

slumber_j said...

I seem to remember reading that one of the Neanderthals' (or "Neandertals'," as we're now supposed to say) big problems was that they never figured out how to throw stuff. Which if true goes a long way toward explaining the European affection for soccer.

Bill said...

If you like poorly written, smarmily leftist, suffocatingly PC, Canadian science fiction (and, really, who doesn't?), then there is a great book on this theme: Hominids.

It won a Hugo, naturally.

Catperson said...

But the real flaw of the neanderthals was their excessively big brains, which enabled them to defer reproduction in favor of getting the family on a sound economic footing first. Of course in the neanderthal age, security was hard to come by. And so those relatively small-brained, fast breeding, aggressive, clannish cro magnons seized the future.

I've read cromagnons actually had larger brains than Neanderthals, probably much larger if you adjust for their more gracile body builds. Both groups had larger brains than early 20th century humans, probably because they were hunter gatherers and had better nutrition, and perhaps also because they had more robust body builds and perhaps also before agriculture made it possible for everyone to eat, only the smartest could survive; there's been dysgenics post-agriculture.

Now because of late 20th century nutrition, brain size is returning to pre-agriculture levels hence the flynn effect.

Vinteuil said...

Interesting. The major Etruscan sites - e.g., the Necropoli & associated museums in Tarquinia & Cerveteri, plus the Gregorian Etruscan Museum in the Vatican & the National Etruscan Museum in the Villa Giulia in Rome, are among the most amazing things to be seen in Italy.

But were the Etruscans really the blood ancestors of the Tuscans who built the Renaissance? Do we have good evidence about this?

Whiskey said...

The British Isles were covered in glaciers during the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago or so, and therefore the inhabitants were when it thawed almost certainly humans not Neanderthals. Best estimates are that isolated populations existed in Southern Spain up to 15,000 years ago.

Anonymous said...

I don't think this correlations says much. Different peoples had their cultural flowering and then declined. Egyptians and Babylonians once had their day in the sun, and then Greeks, and then Romans, and then Florentines, and the French, and then Germans with music, and English with literature, Jews will filmmaking. I must say though, Jews have the longest lasting power. While others bloom and wilt, Jews keep mutating into different forms.

Difference Maker said...

IHTG said...
Anonymous 8:46 PM:
But Tuscany is, in fact, to the north of Rome.


And Washington DC is south of Rome.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if there are any correlations between Neanderthal genes and IQ. For example is there a North China/South China IQ difference, and does that correspond to Neanderthal genetic content? Subtest differences, such as language or math or spatial?

It seems the remaining human Neanderthal content was strongly selected for something. It doesn't seem to be for north/south climate reasons, at least as shown in any sort of smooth cline in the current population.

Gringo said...

Some years ago I read a book by a Venezuelan professor of Italian origin which claimed that the Quechan language had its roots in Etruscan. I wish I had held onto the book, which was published in Venezuela.

Average Joe said...

Actually, I would have thought that Ireland would have had the highest percentage of neanderthal genes - I don't know if Ireland was tested.
Being isolated on the very western periphery of the Eurasian landmass, I would have thought Ireland would carry the most 'archaic' genes and the fewest of newer alien stocks arising from the landmass.


Ireland - and much of Britain - was covered by an ice sheet during the time of the Neanderthals so they would not have been able to occupy it. Also, the ancestors of most Irish people only arrived in Ireland within the last 10,000 years which would have been long after the extinction of the Neanderthals.

Anyway, I've heard it said that red hair (which has its genetic epicenter in Ireland) was a neanderthal trait.

I think red hair is caused by different genes in Neanderthals and Homo sapiens.

TGGP said...

Gringo, that reminds me of M. J. Harper, who claimed French was derived from English and that Latin was just written shorthand used by people who spoke Italian.

LBK said...

The Neanderthals were liberals who believed in spear control, which is why they were defeated by the more aggressive weapon-toting Cro-Magnons.

Mr. Anon said...

"Like the Tuscans, the Etruscans had a sophisticated and pleasant artistic tradition."

The Etruscans had a custom whereby upon his death, a man's slaves would be made to fight each other to the death. Adopted by the Romans, this practice ultimately became the gladitorial games. Sophisticated? Perhaps. Pleasant? Not really.

Robert Dole said...

Autism: The Eusocial Hominid Hypothesis

Abstract:

ASDs (autism spectrum disorders) are hypothesized as one of many adaptive human cognitive variations that have been maintained in modern populations via multiple genetic and epigenetic mechanisms. Introgression from "archaic" hominids (adapted for less demanding social environments) is conjectured as the source of initial intraspecific heterogeneity because strict inclusive fitness does not adequately model the evolution of distinct, copy-number sensitive phenotypes within a freely reproducing population.

Evidence is given of divergent encephalization and brain organization in the Neanderthal (including a ~1520 cc cranial capacity, larger than that of modern humans) to explain the origin of the autism subgroup characterized by abnormal brain growth.

Autism and immune dysfunction are frequently comorbid. This supports an admixture model in light of the recent discovery that MHC alleles (genes linked to immune function, mate selection, neuronal "pruning," etc.) found in most modern human populations come from "archaic" hominids.

Mitochondrial dysfunction, differential fetal androgen exposure, lung abnormalities, and hypomethylation/CNV due to hybridization are also presented as evidence.

Chris said...

the scottish - no not our 'scots irish' - the actual scottish - have a legend that they were/are scythians

And the English have a legend that they were Israelites. Sometimes the scholars are just correct.

Soon Ti said...

Makes sense. After all we know that Sub-saharan Africans (and their diaspora) have the lowest amount of Neanderthal ancestry, and they have on average the highest levels of violence, aggressiveness, and lowest IQs on the planet. Maybe the traits that we consider to make us civilized humans are in part from our Neanderthal heritage.

Jaay Risso said...

futani Italy you will find even higher % of Neanderthal in mountains then anywhere