In a Smithsonian Magazine yearender offering seven new things we are thought to have learned about human evolution in 2021, we read:
Modern humans, Homo sapiens, evolved in Africa and eventually made it to every corner of the world. That is not news. However, we are still understanding how and when the earliest human migrations occurred. We also know that our ancestors interacted with other species of humans at the time, including Neanderthals, based on genetic evidence of Neanderthal DNA in modern humans alive today—an average of 1.9 percent in Europeans.
Remains of some of the earliest humans in Europe were described this year by multiple teams, except they were not fully human. All three of the earliest Homo sapiens in Europe exhibit evidence of Neanderthal interbreeding (admixture) in their recent genealogical past. In April, Kay Prüfer and a team from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History described a human skull from Zlatý kůň, Czechia, dating to around 45,000 years old. This skull contains roughly 3.2 percent Neanderthal DNA in the highly variable regions of the genome, comparable with other humans from around that time. Interestingly, some of these regions indicating Neanderthal admixture were not the same as modern humans, and this individual is not directly ancestral to any population of modern humans, meaning they belonged to a population that has no living descendants. [emphasis added]Briana Pobiner and Ryan McRae, “Seven New Things We Learned About Human Evolution in 2021” at Smithsonian Magazine (December 28, 2021)
In the Big Evolution Narrative, we need the Neanderthals to both be capable of living and producing children with earlier humans but “not fully human.” What function does this combo serve in the story? What if someone tried applying the same criterion to a group today?
You may also wish to read: Neanderthal Man: The long-lost relative turns up again, this time with documents