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Why the Neanderthals Disappeared

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Last week, we discussed various Ancient Astronaut theories, including the possibility that human evolution could have been influenced by visitors from the stars. Today, we are going to look at a somewhat more mainstream theory as to how we came to be the people we are today. Due to the sequencing of the human genome, we now have a much better understanding of how modern humans (homo sapiens) evolved. Most of us know that present-day humans didn't just suddenly arise; they evolved in a series of stages, from 'Lucy' a three-foot high chimp-like ancestor that roamed the plains of Africa over three million years ago, to the Neanderthals, who ruled the earth for over 300,000 years, and who were at one time considered to be mindless brutes but are now known to have possessed a culture, tool-making abilities, and possibly even speech, on through modern humans, who are thought to have arisen about 35,000 years ago. Most of us know that genetic research has shown that most of us possess some Neanderthal genes (about 2-5 percent, depending on nationality and other factors) . Until recently, most researchers had thought that this was due to the fact that Neanderthals and modern humans lived together for a period of time, and thus interbred.

However, a recent discovery by researchers from the Spanish National Distance Education University (UNED), published in the Feb 4 issue of the journal Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences has thrown this theory into doubt. By using carbon dating, which uses radioactive isotopes of carbon to determine the age of objects like human bones, these scientists now believe that, rather than becoming extinct around 35,000 years ago, which would be about 7,000 years after homo sapiens appeared on the scene, Neanderthals may have disappeared as early as 50,000 years ago. This naturally poses the question of; if modern humans didn't arrive on the scene until after the Neanderthals had left, why is it that we have some Neanderthal genes in our DNA?

Though this is troubling, we must remember that carbon dating is not an exact science. Also, we still have much to learn about how our race first evolved, and how and when they migrated from their origins in Africa to today occupy the entire globe. We therefore should refrain from making any hard and fast conclusions and try to keep an open mind. Furthermore, common sense tells us that it's likely that Neanderthals and modern humans lived together for some period of time. Most of us have had the experience of working next to a Neanderthal at our jobs. We need do no more than go to the nearest singles bar to see Neanderthals trying to date young women and vice-versa, so why couldn't the same thing have happened 50,000 years ago? And we are all familiar with the following dating paradox:

Cro-Magnon : I don't understand why she's dating that Neanderthal. What could she possibly see in him. Besides, my therapist told me women were attracted to sweet, sensitive men. When are women going to evolve and start thinking more logically?

In short, regardless of the latest scientific discoveries, we still have much to learn about how we became the intelligent creatures we are today, much less why dating hasn't changed much in the past 100,000 years..



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