March 18, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Neanderthals: Random Drift, Not Natural Selection

The differences between Neanderthals and modern humans were not due to evolution for bigger brains or anything of the sort.  They were due to genetic drift, says an article on Live Science.
    “A team of anthropologists has compared measurements of Neanderthal skulls to modern human skulls, and argues that most variations among them are the result of random changes that occur over time, and not of adaptations driven by natural selection,” the article states up front.
    Don’t chalk up the differences in modern humans to bigger brains, better eyesight, better noses, or better ability to survive and reproduce.  That’s the assertion of Tim Weaver and a team from University of California, Davis.  The article says, “This finding may contradict a common belief that humans won out over Neanderthals because they acquired helpful physical changes in their skulls.”
    Erik Trinkaus, anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis, agrees. 

When we look at the archaeology, there’s essentially no difference in their implied social sophistication,” he said.  “They use the same kinds of tools, they’re all burying their dead, they’re all using body decorations of some form or another.  They were equally effective at hunting animals.  In anything that we can measure, there’s very little difference between Neanderthal and modern humans 50,000 to 100,000 years ago.
    Trinkaus said the reason modern humans flourished and Neanderthals didn’t may have just been luck.

Trinkaus explained that it’s like football.  One team wins one year, another team the next.  “Why, in more recent time periods, do you have some groups of humans with certain cultural advances who displace others?  It’s happened many times.  There’s nothing biologically superior about one group versus the other.
    If modern humans and Neanderthals diverged from a common ancestor 370,000 years ago, as the article claims, this would have to mean that two independent lines of humans converged on the same intelligence, culture and physical capabilities without natural selection – only by random genetic changes.

    We need to keep repeating that the Neanderthal myth is dead.  Neanderthals were Homo sapiens, wise, intelligent, capable hunters who made art, buried their dead, survived and flourished.  Their traits overlap with those of other humans.  There is no reason to believe they were not fully human, capable of interbreeding with other Homo sapiens and talking and communicating with them.  They were members of the ONE human race.
    The article dubs this a “counterintuitive hypothesis.”  It’s not counterintuitive at all.  It makes perfect sense to those not drunk on Dar-wine.  Neanderthals and modern humans were brethren; they were both descendants of the original created human beings.
    The new evolutionary myth, that Neanderthals and “modern humans” (note the embedded evolutionary assumption) diverged from some mythical common ancestor 370,000 years ago, but never learned how to ride a horse in all that time, is no better than the old one.  Evolutionary myths are tales told about bones that have been sacrificed in homage to Charlie.  There’s no meat on them.

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