“Virtual Paleontology” Provides Insight into Last Common Ancestor with Neanderthals

The Human Evolution Blog

One of the most interesting times in the history of the human species is the period when fully modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) lived alongside and interacted with the Neanderthals (H. neanderthalensis or H sapiens neanderthalensis, depending on your perspective). It is now widely accepted that there was some interbreeding and that all non-African populations have some contribution of Neanderthal DNA in their genomes.

original Drawing from the Smithsonian Institution

However, preceding the period when humans and Neanderthals reunited, the two groups must have been separated for quite a long time indeed. We know this because partitioning is absolutely necessary for speciation to occur. If the populations that would give rise to Neanderthals and modern humans were in close contact, they would have merged, rather than remaining distinct. Even a small trickle of gene flow would have kept the two species together, especially considering how similar their lifestyle…

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