Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Neanderthals Among Us

Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, photo by Jason Evans

I was looking at my stat counter log the other day, and I found a most interesting visit. Someone found my blog while searching for "brain function theory INTP." Naturally, I clicked on their search to see what else they found. And I was led to a fascinating site called The Neanderthal Theory. (No, INTPs are not Neanderthals in disguise! LOL!)

I've mentioned in previous posts that I've always been interested in early humans and human evolution. In particular, my imagination has been sparked by the idea that modern humans and Neanderthals lived at the same time. Authors such as Jean Auel have brought this idea to life, exploring the possibilities of interactions between the two hominid groups, including interbreeding. And, genetic research supports this notion.

It's been rather accepted that a Neanderthal could walk the streets of New York City undetected. Their appearance would not be outside the range of modern human variation. A bit shorter, stockier, more muscular, but largely considered unremarkable to other humans. Here is a reconstruction of a Neanderthal child based on research at the University of Zurich (by Elisabeth Daynes, photo by Philippe Plailly).

And now, this Neanderthal Theory takes my imagination to a whole new level. The author proposes that Autism, Asperger's syndrome, ADHD, and Tourette syndrome may not be "disorders" at all, but rather that the symptoms of these conditions are a result of the expression of Neanderthal DNA in the Caucasian genome! Wow-- sounds like science fiction, doesn't it? But the author of this theory presents an interesting case.

Oh, and what did INTP brain function have to do with the Neanderthal Theory? There is mention that there seems to be a correlation between ADHD and the following types: ENTP, ENFP, INFP, and INTP. And that "there is also considerable overlap between criteria of aspie(Asperger's syndrome) and INTP."



Hoodie said...

Fascinating stuff, Aine.

Hey, just letting you know there's finally some action happening on my blog if you'd like to check it out.

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

The author proposes that Autism, Asperger's syndrome, ADHD, and Tourette syndrome may not be "disorders" at all, but rather that the symptoms of these conditions are a result of the expression of Neanderthal DNA in the Caucasian genome!

What an absolutely riveting post. Isn't that an absorbing, proposal? If it can ever be proven true, it would dispel an awful lot of speculation as to what causes these "disorders" - everything from childhood vaccines to toxins in the environment. But, because the exact cause is not yet known, don't these disorders usually just fall into one big clump and get pegged as genetic?

hmmmm, is right! Really fascinating!

Sarah Hina said...

That's a remarkable photo of the Neanderthal child. I expected a more pronounced jaw, and sloped forehead, I guess. Very cool.

Have human/Neanderthal "hybrid" skeletons ever been found? I was not aware that there was interbreeding. It kind of boggles the mind. Neanderthals were much less advanced with their tool-making and language skills, weren't they? I guess some people were less particular back then. :P

Very intriguing connection to those syndromes (er, I might have a touch of ADHD ;))! There have been so many different hypotheses attempting to explain autism, but I hadn't heard this one.

Great post, Aine!! I learned something new. Which is so often the case when I come here. :)

Jen said...

Aine, this is so fascinating. (And I had to laugh at Sarah's not particular comment because I was thinking the same thing!) I saw something similar on TV once (National Geographic maybe??) and they posited that the two would have met at certain points.

I'm sure that the pharma industry would not like this particular theory of adhd explored too far...

Aine said...

Hoodie~ Glad to see you back in action! I hope the hoodlet is letting you sleep, at least on a somewhat normal schedule! I will definitely head over your way.

Kaye~ My biggest criticism of this theory is that it doesn't explain the significant increase of autism and Asperger's in the past decade. Though, I suppose it's possible that something environmental is causing the expression of these DNA sequences. But I don't know enough about the science behind this. Whether or not these are specific genes that can be turned on or off.

But just the idea that we may carry DNA that resulted from interbreeding fascinates me.

Sarah~ There are no fossils that are considered "hybrids". In fact, the fossil record is quite strong that Neanderthals remained distinct from modern humans despite at least 10,000 years of living together. But there have been recent genetic studies (2004 and 2005) that hint that Homo sapiens may have interbred with Neanderthals and even with Homo erectus!

Yes, they were less advanced in tool making, and they hunted in a radically different manner than modern humans. Some scholars argue that they possessed a different intelligence rather than less intelligence. They had sensory skills and physical skills that we don't. And, they probably were fully capable of speech (evidenced by their hunting methods and culture), but it is unclear how complex or symbolic their language was. They mended broken bones and cared for their sick. They appeared to have burial rituals including laying flowers in the grave.

The author of this theory points to possible similarities in the communication skills required for Neanderthal-style hunting, and the communication "deficits" seen in autism. In fact, the hyper-sensory awareness seen in autism and ADHD increases hunting success. Very fascinating!

And, given their geographic range (in Europe), scientists believe they had fair skin, light eyes, and blond or reddish hair. This is the most striking difference from the Neanderthal images I remember seeing in books when I was young.

I'm glad you learned something new. I learn from you, too!! Frequently!

Jen~ Ha! That would be desperation! I actually thought more along the lines of a physically stronger Neanderthal male overpowering and raping a Homo sapiens female. But who knows? I'll leave that up to the gifted novelists to flesh out...

And, yes, a genetic cause for these syndromes would not be welcome news for pharmacology or psychiatry. But there's still the issue of why there's been such an increase. I don't think genetics is the only answer.

Aniket said...

Interesting theory Aine... very interesting. :)

I wikied on this, and there is some pretty interesting facts posted up there too. :)

But am sorry, that I still tend to prefer the Matrix theory. That we are all but just programs living in a huge software called The Matrix. And ADHD and other disorders are just some programs malfunctioning due to a bug. :-)

Its more fascinating to me that way. :D

But of course I'll totally support you, if you find an INTP connection. lolz

SzélsőFa said...

I will check this site.

Aine said...

Aniket~ Shall I call you Neo? The Matrix will always remind me of a philosophy professor who introduced me to the idea that my "reality" could just be a dream. That my body could be lying unconscious somewhere. And everything and everyone I think I know is actually manufactured by my own thoughts. That class was back in 1988...

Szelsofa~ Perhaps it's crazy enough to have some truth in it....

Aniket said...

Oh I would love being called Neo. (TRIVIA: Jana {bluesugarpoet} calls me Anks, which actually is nick name of my sister Ankita, but I still let her call me that, just for the fun of it :D)

And more Trivia: Did you know that the Wachowski brothers got the idea of Matix after reading the novel "1983" which had a Room 101, where people were forced to believe in fake reality. Creepy han.

May be your prof. read that too.
And as a tribute to Room 101, Wachowski brothers included 101 in many ways in the movie Matrix.

Neo's appartment no. 101, the CD the agents wanted was kept in page no. 101 when Neo opens the book, the position in which Neo and Trinity have sex is called 1 On 1 i.e. 101, etc etc... :-)


Charles Gramlich said...

That's definitely an interesting idea. I hadn't heard it before. My first thought is highly doubtful but I should do some more checking on this.

Catvibe said...

I KNEW THERE WAS SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME! :-) No wonder I can't settle down to any ONE thing for more than two seconds. Great post, really interesting theories. And that child reminds me of the elfin beings in the movie 'The Dark Crystal'. Hmmmm...

Most interesting in relating back to what Sarah said about language & tools, I can't help but wonder if that is partially related to why fantasy and metaphor are such dominant features of INFP. It might take an INFP to make that connection, it's kind of a stretch. :-)

How do you get that stat counter thingy anyway?

jason evans said...

INTP, eh? I know nothing about that personality type. Nothing at all. ;)

Actually I've always noted my prominent occipital bun on my skull (shared by my mother), which is a hold-over from Neanderthal human construction. It does come in handy when I'm chewing animal skins to soften them.... Now, some of the dark mysteries of my psyche can finally be explained! The occipital bun was the clue all along! :)

Seriously, this is a fascinating post. To think of ourselves as not purely one species with one genetic line. It makes perfect sense, though. We overlapped for so long. Neanderthals were hot. I could totally see intermingling.

Catvibe said...

Ok, my son answered the question I asked you. He uses Google analytics. Is that what you are using?

SzélsőFa said...

Aine, everytime I try to visit the site, my explorer is forced to shut down. I can not read it :((
But I'd love to since it mentions the Basques, and Hungarians are said to have at least a linguistic relations to them, I've heard.

I've read the comments of your readers, though :)

My husdband said Neanderthals were simply outnumbered by the type of humans now inhabit the Earth. (we call these the Cro-Magnons).
Compared to Neanderthals, the Cro-Magnons people were supposed to be less intelligent (I remember your post about their different head size).
Cro-Magnons multiplied faster, had perhaps, more successful hunting and or survival techniques. They were the new variety, whereas the 'old', more settled, more cultured (?) Neanderthals simply faded away.
Or were swept away by the more aggressive Cro-Magnons.
This is a theory my husband explained to me.

Catvibe said...

So does that mean that the cro-magnon DNA are people with extroverted Se? :-) They are kind of fun, those types. :-)

Aine said...

Aniket~ Cool Matrix trivia! Thanks! Now I'll have to watch again to catch all of the 101 references! :)

Charles~ I was hoping to hear from you. Yes, I agree that it's too "neat" to be true. And the well accepted thought appears to be that very little interbreeding occured. I'm curious to see what the Neanderthal Genome project reveals now that the first draft has been completed (as of Feb. 2009).

Catvibe~ HA!!! It's those extrasensory perception skills. They were first honed in the Pleistocene! However, I must give due respect to our species: metaphor and fantasy were clearly born of the Homo sapiens' brain.

And, statcounter is a free web tracker service. Just go to I don't know anything about Google analytics (I only know enough about computers and the internet to be dangerous...) Good thing you and I have techhy Rationals in our lives!!

Jason~ Leave it to you to think of the "potato head" thing (or whatever your Mom calls it)!

And, see, that's why I posted the reproduction of the child. I was afraid to get the guys all bothered if I posted the reproduction of the Neanderthal hair, fair skin, green eyes...lordy!

Szelsofa~ The webpage that the theory is on is "rdos" which appears to be another type of orperating system. I have no idea what that means, but it sounds like an explanation of why your system shuts down. I'll try copying and pasting the text into an email for you.

Your husband is correct: that is one of the theories of Neanderthal extinction. Some scholars still hold onto the (less accepted) idea that they were absorbed into Homo sapiens via interbreeding. But the autism theory author is saying that even rare occurences of interbreeding would have been sufficient to infuse Neanderthal genes into our gene pool.

And everything else your husband said, I have also read. Though the "more intelligent" idea is hotly contested, as you would imagine. I tend to see it as each species had a different type of intelligence. Neanderthals were certainly well suited for survival as they inhabited the planet for far longer than Homo sapiens (so far). And they did build shelter, work with fire, have language, care for their sick, etc. All indications of higher level cognitive skills.

I just love imagining two (or more) human species interacting. I need a time machine!!

Aine said...

Catvibe~ Yes! Ha! I suppose you could say that. They would've had very developed use of their sensory-based data gathering. It was necessary for survival.

But there is another brain process called "sensory modulation" which is how the intensity, frequency, complexity, etc of sensory input is adjusted to produce an appropriate behavioral response. People who don't "sensory modulate" well, can have "sensory integration disorders" (such as ADHD, autism, etc.) For example, a "normal" response in a crowded room is to filter out (down-grade) all the meaningless chatter and focus on what your friend is saying. A brain that can't do that will go into sensory overload. And the person will react with some coping mechanism such as total withdrawal, acting out frustration, or perhaps shouting in an attempt to drown out the other stimuli. OR, a brain that doesn't modulate appropriately by filtering out too much, will result in a person hungry for more sensory stimuli (ADD).

These are dysfunctions, rather than "normal" brain processing. (Or are they?....)

The Electric Orchid Hunter said...

Thought-provoking stuff. I shall be sure to read up more on the subject. Does this mean certain haplotypes are Neanderthal in origin? How do they know this? I thought the Neanderthal genome was far from fully sequenced.

Minister of the Masochistic Truth said...

I think that this is a more likely scenario of evolution. Ultimately, evolution took time and it would seem logical that the different phases of humankind would have cross pollenated, just as we today cross various cultural lines to create new mixes of people. It's all pretty fascinating!

Aine said...

Electric Orchid Hunter~ This theory was proposed by someone with Asperger's (I think) who is searching for answers. I'm not sure that his evidence is solid. But I think the idea is fascinating.

The latest info I found is that they've completed sequencing 60% of the Neandertal genome. And there are 2 haplotypes that may have originated in a separate lineage (from modern humans) and later introgressed during a time of cohabitation. One is a gene that regulates brain size during development (MCPH1) and the other (the H2 haplotype of MAPT) is somehow involved in neurodegenerative disease.

So, there are still a few proponents for genetic admixture, despite what appears to be a majority consensus that there was no interbreeding.

And, all of what I'm saying should be taken as the interpretations of a layperson trying to read complex scientific findings... :P

Minister~ Yes, we carry so much DNA from our ancestors that isn't expressed. What intrigues me is the idea that the rise in these behaviors/syndromes may be the recent "turning on" of these genes which may have been part of us for hundreds of thousands of years. Of course, the big question then is "why?"

Minister of the Masochistic Truth said...

I suppose the "why" is found in life's only constant - change. Our environment, our globalisation, dietary changes, medications... many variables to consider. Ultimately, it comes back to the title of your blog - "Life is Beautiful"!

Vesper said...

This topic becomes more and more fascinating. A time machine would make wonders here...
What I find, when reading about such hugely interesting (to me) subjects, is that more often than not my desire for knowledge is surpassed by the frustration of never reaching the "truth". We can imagine, we can speculate, we can find proof of that or the other, but ultimately we can never "know" with absolute certainty.
Thank you for a very thought-provoking post, Aine!

Chris Eldin said...

Truly, truly fascinating. I've read through all the comments, and now will go check out the site.

Aniket said...

Hi, You have an award waiting for you HERE

Little Girl Lost said...

Hi aine... i loved your blog so much. i especially loved the theory you mentioned. you are right, it does sound like sci-fi.
hope to keep coming back. take care. do visit. :)

Aine said...

Minister~ I couldn't agree more!

Vesper~ If I ever find a time machine I'll take you with me!! When I was 12 or so, I used to imagine I had brought back an early human to present day. I'd spend the day seeing the world through their eyes and imagining myself comforting them (there's lots of scary stuff in our world!) and explaining everything. But at the end of the day I felt that frustration, too. Of never really knowing!

Chris~ Perhaps there's some new kernal of insight into ADHD for you? Have you ever read or heard of the possible ADHD-personality type connection?

Aniket~ Thank you!! Sorry I've been away from blogging this week... I'll get back to your place very soon!!

Little Girl Lost~ Welcome! I will come visit. :)

Aniket said...

I know... I know! No rush... enjoy the holidays with family.

I'm gonna be out for a week this month end too... When I'll go to visit my parents. :-D