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An article from The Daily Galaxy points to some interesting genetic research showing that Neanderthals had the same “language gene” as modern humans. (See “Did Neanderthals Share the “Language Gene” with Homo Sapiens?“)

In an article in Current Biology, geneticist Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, describes the process by which he and colleagues obtained enough usable Neanderthal DNA to test for FOXP2, the gene in question. (See “The Derived FOXP2 Variant of Modern Humans Was Shared with Neandertals“)

The Daily Galaxy article says that “FOXP2 is thought to be crucial to the development of language as it governs the fine control of muscles that is needed to form words with the larynx, lips and tongue.”

Since no known written accounts have been discovered about the culture of Neanderthals, one couldn’t directly prove that Neanderthals had language, just that they had the physical capability for it.

Pääbo believes that the last common ancestor between Neanderthals and modern humans was 300,000 to 400,000 years ago. The Wikipedia article on Neanderthals says that the group is believed to have become extinct by about 24,000 years ago.

I would inject the comment that these fantastically long time periods are conjectural and rest on various assumptions, especially the assumption that life is the result of evolutionary processes that operate very slowly.

This information lends support to the idea that Neanderthals and humans are really just different varieties of the human kind. The original human pair no doubt contained the genetic capability for great genetic diversity. Many strains of the human family could have appeared and been extincted by genocide, environmental upheavals, or catastrophes.

ARK — 30 March 2009

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