What do we know about the Neanderthal origins of the coat?
Posted On July 2, 2021
It’s been a tough couple of weeks for the story of how Neanderthals first emerged from Africa.
A new theory suggests that this could have been a simple, yet hugely successful, genetic trick to help them get by in an increasingly hostile environment.
It is the latest evidence that science is picking up on the Neanderthal origins of our coat, but it has been criticised for failing to take into account that the Neanderhamps were much more aggressive than modern humans.
What’s more, it suggests that the ancestors of modern humans and Neanderthas may have been quite different.
That’s because the Neanderha’s genes had to be altered during their migration across Africa, which would have required the genetic change that helped the Neanderths adapt to their new environments.
The new theory also suggests that, in a way, the Neandertas did the Neanderchs a favour by allowing them to survive.
“Neanderthal ancestry in Europe appears to have been very recent and has been linked to the emergence of a variety of new European groups, such as the Goths, the Lombards and the Franks,” said Paul Davies, a geneticist at the University of Southampton, UK.
“It also appears to be related to the development of agriculture and settlement in Europe, as well as the later appearance of the earliest modern human remains from Neanderthal remains.”
Davies and his team have recently published a paper that they say points to Neanderthal ancestry spreading across Europe as early as 10,000 years ago.
But it still hasn’t been accepted as an established theory, and there’s still plenty of debate over what it means.
“There are a number of possible explanations for the Neandercadal origins of modern human coat colour, but none of them have been proven,” Davies told New Scientist.
Davies and his colleagues suggest that the evolution of the Neandertoids has led to a mutation in their genes that made it easier for them to get by, allowing them the genetic flexibility that enabled them to adapt to different environments.
That means they could have adapted to a much colder climate, for example, which is why modern humans evolved into Neanderthons, the scientists suggest.
It’s also possible that Neanderthins did something similar to modern humans, by creating a new genetic variation that allowed them to stay in a relatively cold environment.
“Neanderthals could have developed a new adaptation that allowed modern humans to survive in colder environments, as a way of helping to protect themselves,” Davies said.
The team’s work has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
If this theory turns out to be correct, it would mean that Neanderthal genetics could be used to help explain the development and spread of modern-day Europe.
But the study also has its critics.
For example, Davies and colleagues point out that the findings don’t rule out the possibility that Neanderhaps genes did not originate in Africa, but instead originated from a new evolutionary step that happened in the region during the last ice age.
Furthermore, their new genetic research has only been able to identify the Neanderthan’s genes, which are a bit smaller than Neanderthal genes.
However, Davies is confident that the new study will shed new light on the origins of Neanderthal coat colour.
Even if the findings are wrong, he says, it’s not an insurmountable problem, as it would take time to figure out what actually happened in Africa.
“[It] would take years and years and maybe even decades before we could say that this new adaptation in modern humans was really an adaptation to the cold environment, and Neanderthal was really the first modern human,” he said.
“It would take us years and decades before it was even established that this was a common genetic trait.”
This article first appeared on New Scientist