Irish cannibals and Neanderthal sex: Just how big is our species?

By Carl Zimmer | September 21, 2012 10:10 am

When the first fossils of Neanderthals came to light 155 years ago, they raised a tough question: did they come from a member of our own species, or a separate one?

For all the progress scientists have made in studying Neanderthals since then, the answer remains tough–in part because it’s not that easy to define a species.

NOVA asked me to write about this enduring question. You can read my answer here.

Comments (5)

  1. John Kubie

    Is there a function to the brow enlargement? If so, what?

  2. You are equating “human” with “Homo sapiens”. This seems to me a strange and very recent trend.
    Neandertals (Neandertal Man!!) have always been considered human. Archaic humans, primitive humans, ancient humans, but humans.

  3. David B. Benson

    Yes, there have been many human species.

  4. Completely agree with Paleofreak comment

  5. Austin

    @#1 John Kubie:

    The robust brow ridge of archaic human species simply continues to be one of mysteries of evolution. One of my physical anthropology professors jokingly answered that question with “Don’t ask!” Nobody really knows, and there are very few (and very weakly supported) hypotheses.

    Brow ridges might have served the purpose of protecting the eyes, or of shielding them from the sun or sweat–in which case the mystery is really why anatomically modern Homo sapiens don’t have them. If I had to speculate, I’d say it’s just another one of our neotenous features.

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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.

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