Did Neanderthals Share the "Language Gene" with Homo Sapiens? A Galaxy Classic
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March 27, 2009

Did Neanderthals Share the "Language Gene" with Homo Sapiens? A Galaxy Classic

Neanderthal_lanuage_gene_2 In a surprising discovery, scientists believe they have found modern man's language gene in the DNA of the extinct race of Neanderthals, raising the possibility that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, Neanderthals may have whiled away the winter with conversation, gossip and debate.  The language gene is shared with only one other species, Homo Sapiens.  If true, the Neanderthals may have had their own distinct culture, customs and history.

In a surprising discovery, scientists believe they have found modern man's language gene in the DNA of the extinct race of Neanderthals, raising the possibility that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, Neanderthals may have whiled away the winter with conversation, gossip and debate.  The language gene is shared with only one other species, Homo Sapiens.  If true, the Neanderthals may have had their own distinct culture, customs and history.

Professor Svante Paabo, who has been leading the Neanderthal genome project at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, said the presence of the language gene would change the way people view Neanderthals.  He said,

    It is not a compliment to be called a Neanderthal, but we are finding that the Neanderthal DNA looks much more like contemporary humans than chimps. The human variations of this gene involved in the use of language are not found in apes and for a long time there has been speculation Neanderthals would have a different gene and so a different linguistic ability. By looking at their DNA, we have found that from the point of view of this gene, there is no reason they would not have spoken like we do. It is a very contentious area with a lot of different views.

The discovery of the gene, called FOXP2, have provided the strongest evidence yet that these heavily built species were capable of speech, although the researchers are unable to say what extent their linguistic ability would have been.

FOXP2 is thought to be crucial to the development of language as it governs the fine control of muscles that is needed to form words with the larynx, lips and tongue.

Professor Paabo has been leading research to create the first ever profile of the Neanderthal genome from the remains of nine Neanderthal's, thought to have been killed and eaten by cannibals 42,000 years ago, that were found in a cave in Northern Spain.

Regular Daily Galaxy readers will know that I discussed the theory of hybridisation in an earlier piece.  It's relevance here lies in the suggestion that Neandrethals and humans may have interbred.  It's certainly possible, but, hybridisation theory would hold that their offspring would have a much greater chance of being sterile, just as hybridization most likely drove ape differentiation.  Interesting stuff.

Dr. Paabo has been using DNA research to document the full extent of the land occupied by Neadrethals.  Earlier this year, he published findings that suggested Neandrethals covered more territory than originally thought.

The land of the Neanderthals once stretched from Asia to Western Europe. Now there is evidence that our rugged and heavy-set cousins could have spread as far east as central Asia and Siberia — more than one thousand miles further than previously thought — according to new DNA evidence.

In the journal Nature, Dr Pääbo and colleagues looked at a particular kind of DNA sequence from two sets of remains — one child skeleton from Uzbekistan and adult fossils from Okladnikov in southern Siberia — to find out whether they fell within the variation seen in European Neanderthals.

The partial skeleton from Teshik-Tash in Uzbekistan is of an 8 to10-year-old boy discovered in the 1930s. This fossil is thought to represent the easternmost extent of the Neanderthal range, but scientists have never been able to confirm it. The authors extracted DNA samples from four bones: the left femur of the Teshik-Tash child and three fragmentary pieces from the Siberian fossils.

The results show that the fossil DNA sequences fall within the European variation, suggesting that the geographical range of Neanderthals extended farther east into southern Siberia than has generally been assumed.

But Wait!  There's More!  And this is where I really start to gain a little confidence in the theory of evolution.  Most Daily Galaxy readers are familiar with Neanderthals and how they share a common ancestor with Homo Sapiens, but according to Darwin wouldn't it be more likely that there were several varieties of smart hominids?

Turns out there are.  Earlier this year, proof was presented that an entirely different species of hominid in Indonesia.  Nicknamed the hobbits of Indonesia to their diminutive stature, it had long been suspected that they were pygmies or afflicted with a form of micro-encephaly that retarded their brain growth.

Three years ago, Prof Mike Morwood, of the University of New England, in Armidale, Australia, and colleagues made headlines worldwide when they announced the discovery of 18,000-year-old remains of Homo floresiensis in the Liang Bua Cave on the Indonesian island of Flores.

The human evolutionary cousin, nicknamed the hobbit after the diminutive people in JRR Tolkein's Lord Of The Rings, stood only three foot tall and was thought to be an entirely new species of human, with a brain about the size of a chimpanzee's.

Ever since there has been debate whether or not the bones were actually from pygmies - even today there are pygmies on the island - and not a new species of human that lived between 120,000 and 10,000 years ago. One idea is that they suffered from microcephaly, a disorder that limits brain growth.

September, 2007, in the journal Science an analysis of three wrist bones of one of the fossil specimens (called LB1) led by Matthew Tocheri of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, and including Prof Morwood and colleagues in Indonesia and America shows that the bones are primitive and shaped differently compared to both the wrist bones of both humans and of Neanderthals, suggesting they do represent a different kind of human.

Another member of the team that announced the hobbit, Prof Richard "Bert" Roberts of the University of Wollongong, added,

"To my mind, it's yet another piece of strong evidence in support of the 'hobbit' having an ancient lineage - not something closely related to modern humans, let alone a diseased individual of our species.

Importantly, this new study continues to undermine claims that the 'hobbit' suffered from a medical condition known as microcephaly - that is, a modern human with an abnormally small brain - by looking at a part of the anatomy far removed from the head: namely, the wrist bones.

Microcephalics do not have unusually shaped wrist bones, but the hobbit does - and the features of the wrist bones are echoed in the primitive traits seen in many other parts of the skeleton, including the skull, which has been almost the sole focus of attention of the pro-microcephaly camp."

When you claim your reservation at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, ask for a table in the Milky Way section and check out your cousins!

Posted by Garth Sullivan

Related Galaxy posts:

"Out of Africa" View of Early Human Origins Disputed
Neanderthal Man, the Sequel -Scientists Aim to Bring Extinct Species Back to Life
Was there an Ancient Language of Universal Symbols?

Story Links:
http://www.livescience.com/health/050706_ap_neanderthal.html
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/11/061116083223.htm

Comments


Possible that Neanderthals had ability to talk and communicate to each other.

At the end of the day is NOT that Sapiens suddenly appeared and wiped out the Neanderthal...Overlay and exchange of info was lilely to happen anywhere they had been overlaid.

Do we have proof ?? NONE neither for Sapiens nor for Neanderthal...NO Written languages were left over some 40K Y ago.

For written language and Not just drawings...we have to wait until some 5K Y before Christ or the like.

Regards to both species

Great site this www.dailygalaxy.com and I am really pleased to see you have what I am actually looking for here and this this post is exactly what I am interested in. I shall be pleased to become a regular visitor :)

"but we are finding that the Neanderthal DNA looks much more like contemporary humans than chimps"

I should hope so since both share common ancestry with chimps 5-8 million years ago. Sapiens and neanderthals share common ancestry only 0.3 million years ago.

The FOXP2 gene is an amazing way to change all knowledge about Neanderthals... as the article says..
They could possibely developed a culture, language and social structure...

Not sure about debates, but I do believe about a different way to communicate nd expression

you****************************************************************


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