40,000 Years B.C.: Four Human Types, One Earth

If you were to get in a time machine and go back to 40,000 years B.C., you would find at least four types of humans on Earth. That, at any rate, is what is reported in the New York Times today in a fascinating review of our current genetic knowledge:

A revolutionary increase in the speed and a decline in the cost of gene-sequencing technology have enabled scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, to map the genomes of both the Neanderthals and the Denisovans.

Comparing genomes, scientists concluded that today’s humans outside Africa carry an average of 2.5 percent Neanderthal DNA, and that people from parts of Oceania also carry about 5 percent Denisovan DNA. A study published in November found that Southeast Asians carry about 1 percent Denisovan DNA in addition to their Neanderthal genes. It is unclear whether Denisovans and Neanderthals also interbred.

A third group of extinct humans, Homo floresiensis, nicknamed “the hobbits” because they were so small, also walked the earth until about 17,000 years ago. It is not known whether modern humans bred with them […]

This means that our modern era, since H. floresiensis died out, is the only time in the four-million-year human history that just one type of human has been alive, said David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School who was the lead author of the Nature paper on the Denisovans.

Cut to commercials.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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1 Response to 40,000 Years B.C.: Four Human Types, One Earth

  1. Anonymous says:

    that was wierd

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