Are you part Neanderthal?
Unless you come from the deepest, nonmigrating part of Africa, you probably are. During a recent visit to SW France I visited Pech Merle, one of the oldest actual cave painting sites one can visit. At Pech Merle near Caberets, France we saw a 2+ kilometer cave with exquisite wall paintings some 25,000 years old. These are believed to have been painted by the same man. It’s difficult to tell from these post card photos (one is, of course, not allowed to photograph or touch the paintings!) that the artist used the contours of the cave walls to enhance his drawings of horses, bison, and mammoths.
In addition to what we learned there, my daughter-in-law and I wanted to investigate further. Here’s a little of what we discovered.
Previous scientific thought was that Homo sapiens violently got rid of the other Homo species. The increased use of DNA and other scientific tools has refuted that in the past five years or so. No, it was sex, social organization, and communication that ultimately lead to Homo sapiens remaining as the one Homo species.
Interestingly, scientists from Oxford University examining Homo neanderthalensis skulls found that they had significantly larger eye sockets, an adaptation to the longer periods of darkness in Europe. So they had to use much of their brains to see. Whereas in the longer bright light of Africa, Homo sapiens developed larger frontal lobes used for “higher-level processing.” [The Guardian, June 3, 2013].
In the meantime, other scientists established the sex connection with DNA studies. So why did those nonmigrating Africans not have any Neanderthal DNA? Because they stayed home so they never met those European cousins, and they had no opportunity to practice the cultural diversity that ended up populating the rest of the world.
Groups of Homo sapiens left Africa some 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. They met up with Homo neanderthalensis in Europe and the Middle East. It’s clear today that the two groups co-existed for some time, but gradually Neanderthals as a specific species disappeared. We just co-opted them. It’s certainly a more attractive proposition than clubbing them to death!
In the meantime there is lovely southwestern France and the Lot River region.
Not to mention the food and wine. Truffles were a specialty of the area.
Last week, I had mentioned writing of Barcelona too, but decided that needed its own blog, so next week to Spain.