I assume by now that everyone has read A Draft Sequence of the Neandertal Genome. It’s free to all, so you should. At least look at the figures. Also, if you haven’t at least skimmed the supplement, you should do that as well. It’s nearly 200 pages, and basically feels more like a collection of minimally edited papers than anything else. There’s no point in me reviewing the paper, since you can read it, and plenty of others have hit the relevant ground already.
Since there seem to be three main segments of the paper, here are a few minimal thoughts on each.
In Science Ann Gibbons has a very long reported piece, Close Encounters of the Prehistoric Kind. It’s well worth reading, but behind a pay wall. If you don’t have access though, I want to spotlight one particular section:
The discovery of interbreeding in the nuclear genome surprised the team members. Neandertals did coexist with modern humans in Europe from 30,000 to 45,000 years ago, and perhaps in the Middle East as early as 80,000 years ago (see map, p. 681). But there was no sign of admixture in the complete Neandertal mitochondrial (mtDNA) genome or in earlier studies of other gene lineages…And many researchers had decided that there was no interbreeding that led to viable offspring. “We started with a very strong bias against mixture,” says co-author David Reich of Harvard Medical School in Boston. Indeed, when Pääbo first learned that the Neandertal DNA tended to be more similar to European DNA than to African DNA, he thought, “Ah, it’s probably just a statistical fluke.” When the link persisted, he thought it was a bias in the data. So the researchers used different methods in different labs to confirm the result. “I feel confident now because three different ways of analyzing the data all come to this conclusion of admixture,” says Pääbo.
My thoughts on the topic are pretty disjointed, and I can’t come up with a post that adds anything to what others have already said. And there’s still the primary documents to digest in full. So I’m going to open this post up to stray thoughts/comments (though try to keep it at least at the level of a Neandertal cognitively). Question: what other human evolution story is of the same order of magnitude in terms of significance? I think the last one of this magnitude was the Cann, et. al. “mitochondrial Eve” narrative of the mid-80s. Before that Lucy?
Good time to be alive, no?
Update: John Hawks.
Update II: Science got the page up.