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WERE NEANDERTHALS KILLED OFF OR ASSIMILATED?

English: comparison of Neanderthal and Modern ...

Comparison of Neanderthal and Modern human skulls from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History by hairymuseummatt via Wikipedia and Flickr

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Many anthropologists believe that modern humans ancestors directly or indirectly killed off   Neanderthal and Denisovan populations as they moved into Neanderthal and Denisovan territory. A new study of the issue argues that it’s more likely that Neanderthals and Denisovans were assimilated into the human gene pool thirty to forty thousand years ago during the Upper Pleistocene era as cultural and climatic forces brought the two groups together, according to Arizona State University Professor C. Michael Barton.

Recent sequencing of ancient Neanderthal DNA indicates that Neanderthal genes make up from 1 to 4 percent of the genome of modern populations—especially those of European descent.  Denisovans genes (Denisovans are a sister species to Neanderthals, who were recently found in central and eastern Asia).were found to make up 2 to 6 percent of human genes in southeast Asia. South of the Sahara Africans show no signs of Neanderthal genes.

The researchers used archaeological data to track cultural and socio-ecological changes in behavior in Western Eurasia during the past 120,000 years. As Neanderthals and early humans land-use patterns shifted during the last ice age, computer modeling showed that the two populations began to interact and mate, leading to the “extinction” of one of the groups due to hybridization, a well-recognized phenomenon in conservation biology. Neanderthals were limited to western Asia and Europe, while Denisovans, a sister species to Neanderthals, were recently found in central and eastern Asia. Usually it is the smaller population that becomes “extinct”  but succeeding hybrid populations still carry some genes from the regional group that disappeared, according to the researchers.

According to Barton, “There is a perception that biological evolution determines culture during the Pleistocene era and that cultural influences only predominate afterwards. The reality is that the two forces have been working together and they were as important 50,000 years ago as they are today. Other than the fact that they disappeared, there is no evidence that Neanderthals were any less fit as hunter-gatherers of the late Pleistocene than any other human ancestor living at that time. It looks like they were as capable as anyone else,”

So why did they assimilate into us rather than us into them? Humans might have had the advantage of a higher birth rate. Neanderthals had slightly bigger heads and brains than humans so they might have had greater difficulty in giving birth. Humans also benefited from their belief that a birth goddess would help them.  Without successful reproduction no species can flourish, or even survive. Homo sapiens were as subject to the biological imperative (commandment) to be fruitful and multiply as all other species. But the intelligent minds of Homo sapiens knew the dangers of childbirth. Infant mortality rates in most tribes were more than one in four. The maternal death rate for every four births was more than one in ten. Pregnancy was highly desired and birth anxiously awaited. Pregnant women naturally sought the physical help of their mothers and grandmothers who in turn sought the spiritual help of their now departed mothers and grandmothers. Among the earliest Gods were birth Goddesses. Small stone figures of very pregnant birth Goddesses often referred to as “Venus” figures go back 30-35,000 years. They are the first examples of iconic religion. The worship of spirits within natural phenomena does not need iconic representation. But birth rarely took place in the open or in public.  A birth Goddess needed to be present in some tangible way in order to ease the anxiety of women in labor. Even today in some African countries the maternal mortality rate is 3% per birth. A woman who gave birth to 8 children had a one in four chance of dying from giving birth. Any band would benefit even if the presence of Goddesses reduced that mortality rate by only 5%. Carvings in wood of birth Goddesses probably preceded stone statues by many millennia and may have originated 50-100,000 years ago.

A small birth Goddess that fits in the palm of  a woman’s hand, carved of Mammoth ivory with exaggerated sexual features was described in the May 14, 2009 issue of Nature. The figurine is dated to more than 35,000 years ago, when all three species were alive. Dozens of these figurines have been found at human sites, none at Neanderthal sites. Indeed, archeological evidence of religious rituals in general is much more extensive at human sites than at Neanderthal sites. Thus, religion may have been the single most significant factor in Neanderthal and Denisovan assimilation into humans rather than human assimilation into them.

For further information see my article in Popular Archeology  June, 2011 or my web site: rabbimaller.com


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Religion, Science and Political Beliefs

mix of Homo Models; (from right to left) H. ha...

Mix of Homo Models: H. habilis, H. ergaster, H. erectus; H. antecessor - male, female, H. heidelbergensis; H. neanderthalensis - girl, male, H. sapiens sapiens (via Wikipedia)

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

American Jews support natural science more than any other religious group in the U.S. according to Rabbi Allen S. Maller in Los Angeles. Rabbi Maller points to a September PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey (released  9/22/11) that explores the connection between politics, religion and American’s views of evolution and the human factor in causing climate change.

Evolution

A majority (57%) of Americans believe that humans and other living beings have evolved over time, compared to 38% who say that humans and other living beings have existed in their present form since creation. More than 6-in-10 political independents (61%) and Democrats (64%) affirm a belief in evolution, compared to 45% of Republicans and 43% of Americans who identify with the Tea Party.

Nearly two-thirds (66%) of white mainline Protestants, 61% of Catholics, 77% of the unaffiliated and almost 90% of Jews believe humans and other living beings evolved over time, compared to only about one-third (32%) of white evangelicals. African American Protestants are evenly divided on the question, with 47% affirming a belief in evolution and 46% affirming a belief in creationism.

Climate Change

Nearly 7-in-10 (69%) Americans say that there is solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades, compared to only 26% who disagree. But there are large, asymmetrical political divisions over belief about climate change. Eighty-one percent of Democrats and 7-in-10 independents believe the earth is getting warmer, compared to only half (49%) of Republicans and only about 4-in-10 (41%) Americans who identify as members of the Tea Party.

Strong majorities of every religious group say that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer, including 9-in-10 Jews, 7-in-10 Catholics and unaffiliated, 63% of white mainline Protestants, and 57% of white evangelicals.

But Americans are divided along partisan and religious lines about the underlying causes of climate change. Among those who believe the earth is getting warmer, nearly two-thirds (64%) believe that climate change is caused by human activity, compared to 32% who say it is caused by natural environmental patterns. Less than 1-in-5 Republicans (18%) and Tea Party members (18%) believe that climate change is caused by human activity, compared to 60% of Democrats.

White evangelicals are significantly less likely to believe that the earth is getting warmer and that changes are caused by human activity (31%) than white mainline Protestants (43%), Catholics (50%), the unaffiliated (52%) and Jews (over 70%).

The 140 year war between the disciples of Moses and the disciples of Darwin that was sparked by the publication of Darwin’s Decent of Man in 1871 should be drawing to a close, with victory going to those who are the disciples of both according to Rabbi Maller. In the last few decades genetics has provided us with a whole new source of information about the evolution of Homo Sapiens. A simple example of this, is the answer to the question of when people first began wearing clothing, provided recently by studies of lice genes.

Judaism

Homo Sapiens is the only living species that clothes itself. Fossilized textiles from more than 20,000 years ago have been found in the cold climates of ice age Europe. However, according to the Torah, the origins of clothing are the not the result of human adaptation to an ice age climate, but the result of human concepts of modesty. Self-aware intelligent minds became moral minds and then became modest minds. Recent DNA studies of body lice that must lay their eggs in clothing, show that these lice evolved from pubic lice that had adapted to clothing that covered the pubic area. According to a 2003 study led by Mark Stoneking, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, this genetic adaptation took place 42-72,000 years ago. This is a date that would fit in with living in ice age Europe and Asia. But a newer study recently published in the January, 2011 issue of Molecular Biology and Evolution, indicates a date of separation between body and clothing lice of  83.000 to 170.000 years ago. Thus, Homo Sapiens may have been clothing themselves for about 100-150,000 years. If the higher estimate proves to be correct, it will mean that long before Homo Sapiens needed to wear clothing due to living in very cold northern climates, moral rules of modesty and probity became so important that our ancestors, for moral reasons and not simply for comfort reasons, began to cloth themselves. This is precisely the teaching of Genesis 3:7

A great deal of unnecessary conflict and misunderstanding between the disciples of Darwin and the disciples of Moses has been caused by the careless use of the terms ‘human’ and ‘man’ to describe the increasing number of fossil finds of tool using biped species, some of them, ancestral to Homo Sapiens. Forty years ago, when only about a half dozen Homo species were described, they were listed  in a straight line and all popularly labeled Humans: and not human like. Now, paleontologists have about two dozen different species (depending on who is counting), most of them living at the same time as one or two other similar species. When conservationists discuss species they never lump all mice or tortoises together; but paleoanthropologists routinely call all the different Homo species by the same common name Man or Human. Following the lead of Robert Foley of Cambridge University, who argues that all species of Homo Sapiens prior to Homo Sapiens Sapiens should be made subspecies of Homo Erectus and Homo Sapiens should “be reserved only for modern humans” I always try to refer to each distinct species by its scientific name only. Recent fossils found on Flores Island in Indonesia in September 2003 are from a new species of tool using bipeds named Homo Floresiensis that lived as recently as 15,000 years ago. They are not pigmy Homo Sapiens (HS). They used fire (in use by pre HS species for more than half a million years) and made stone tools Yet we do not know of any HF or HN evidence of ritual burials, which are the earliest forms of non-material cultural activity, prior to 100.000 years ago. Most people think that the name ‘human’ or ‘mankind’ should be reserved only for our own species. Not using the name ‘human’ and ‘man’ carelessly might help resolve some of the conflict over the theory of evolution.

Another example of genetics bringing the disciples of Darwin and Moses closer together is mitochondrial Adam and Eve. For most of the 20th century paleoanthropologists believed that HS evolved from Homo Neanderthals (HN) or some other related species like Homo Erectus, in various regions around the world. Thus, there was no Eden like center and no first HS male of female. This belief has been transformed by many genetic studies. Today, with the exceptions of a few regionalists, most  paleoanthropologists think there was a historic  “out of Africa”  homeland. They also think that there was an individual HS male from whom all of today’s men are descendent, who lived thousands of years after the an individual HS female from whom all of today’s women are descendent.. All men in the world today carry the same Y chromosome and both men and woman carry the same mitochondria X chromosome. All of today’s Y chromosomes were inherited from the same single source, a Y chromosome carried by one individual male. In the same way, we all carry same mitochondrial DNA because all mitochondrial DNA is passed down from mother to child, and passed down through mother to daughter. When a daughter of that first universal mitochondrial DNA female mated with a son of the first universal Y male; Homo Sapiens, the children of Adam and Eve, were born, None of the descendants of the pre-modern HS have survived.

In any case, very few Jews, even among the ultra-Orthodox, read the Bible literally. Jews know that a religious text always has many levels of meaning. Every rabbi can give you three or four meanings to a verse. Just go to any Torah study class and see for yourself.

Rabbi Maller’s web site is rabbimaller.com

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