5 Jun 2020

At ... Here we have it - from the horses mouth (or so it would seem looking at the headline). Neanderthals and Denisovans and Humans (Late Palaeolithic onwards) are closer, genetically, than polar bears are to brown bears. This is a bizarre claim, one might think, as polar bears are known to have evolved from brown bears after adapting to the Arctic. The research paper, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, has an analysis that shows that genetic distance values separating the three groups of humans, Middle and Late Palaeolithic in date, were more similar that in the case of the bears. The key word here appears to be 'distance values' - and we all know that genetic relationships diminish the further back you go, generation to generation. The bears diverged a long time ago but modern humans appeared on the scene around 40,000 years ago (although some scientists think modern humans evolved as early as 300,000 years ago, there is little evidence they were alike, apart from features found on skulls and jawbones). It was in some ways disingenious to have modern humans evolving in Africa thousands of years prior to those humans living in Asia and Europe, the largest land mass. It provided some breathing space for the preferred Out of Africa theory of human evolution. It also allowed them to ignore the elephant in the room, the fact that Neanderthals and Denisovans disappeared at the same time as a mass die off of large animals.

One may wonder if the analysis actually means anything? The headline was attention seeking and the substance was quite weak.

At ... dating cave art is a problem but the use of  uranium-thorium methodology has now been challenged it would seem. The Nerja Cave is located in Spain and it was dated too old for modern humans. That caused some attention to be paid to the methodology as previously there was no evidence of Neanderthal cave art. The new research is said to show that Neanderthals did not do the cave art work as it moves forwards the dates involved. Expect somebody on the opposing side to react with another paper to the contrary. This study is published in the Journal of Archaeological Science - see