The researchers, using quantitative methods focused on the shape of dental fossils, find that none of the usual suspects fits the expected profile of an ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans. They also present evidence that the lines that led to Neanderthals and modern humans diverged nearly 1 million years ago, much earlier than studies based on molecular evidence have suggested.
Of course, other sources now doubt that modern humans and Neanderthals diverged much at all. Neanderthal genome mapper Svante Paabo:
One thing that we’re beginning to see is that we are extremely closely related to the Neanderthals. They’re our relatives. In a way, they’re like a human ancestor 300,000 years ago. Which is something that leads you to think: what about the Neanderthals? What if they had survived a little longer and were with us today? After all, they disappeared only around 30,000 years ago, or, 2,000 generations ago. Had they survived, where would they be today? Would they be in a zoo? Or would they live in suburbia? These are the questions I like to think about.
More from the current team:
“Our results call attention to the strong discrepancies between molecular and paleontological estimates of the divergence time between Neanderthals and modern humans,” said Aida Gómez-Robles, lead author of the paper and a postdoctoral scientist at the Center for the Advanced Study of Hominid Paleobiology of The George Washington University. “These discrepancies cannot be simply ignored, but they have to be somehow reconciled.”
They conclude with high statistical confidence that none of the hominins usually proposed as a common ancestor, such as Homo heidelbergensis, H. erectus and H. antecessor, is a satisfactory match.
But wait, Homo heidelbergensis (Heidelberg man) is classified in some schemes as Neanderthal man anyway. So if they were our ancestors … ?
As it happens, in the present state of the art, there seems to be no reliable human family tree. So schemes need neither be ignored nor reconciled. They can be advanced post-modernly, oblivious to each other.
And anything like general doubt is anti-science. You must choose a scheme to believe, for self-protection, even if you have little confidence in its factual correctness or even organizational value.