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“Neandertals and Folks Like Us” By Fred Smith (Loyola University)

The Journal of Anthropological Research invited Dr. Fred Smith, expert in Neandertal biology, to UNM to discuss his thoughts and reasoning about Neandertals and their relation to modern humans. When I studied Neandertals in physical anthropology two years ago, I learned that they were short, stalky proto-humans incapable of speech. A few months earlier, the Neandertal Genome was completed and the world found out that 1-4% of our modern DNA came from Neandertals.

Dr. Smith pointed out that even though modern human brains are 5cm3 larger than Neandertal brains, there is no concrete evidence to prove that Neandertals were cognitively inferior to modern Homo sapiens. Recent studies show that Neandertals show no evidence of speech impairments since both they and modern humans have relatively the same hyoid bones and FOXP2 genes.

I personally support Dr. Smith’s Assimilation Model. During my class, I never doubted the possibility of the two species (or races as Dr. Smith also defends) merging together. It always felt a bit illogical to say that modern humans only migrated to Europe once or only migrated multi-regionally — why would assimilation not be a possibility? (I also feel this way about migration hypotheses regarding arrival in America...why not multiple different types of migrations? Why would there only be one wave of people across a piece of ice?) After he mentioned the morphological similarities between Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis, it seems logical to support that indeed, we are very similar yet interestingly different.

My favorite part of the lecture was when Dr. Smith said that circumstances and technology that modern humans had may be the only reason why Neandertals did not feel compelled, nor felt the desire, to create an abundance of material objects. They created the goods they had well, that does not mean they were inferior to us.

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