One of the world’s leading geneticists claims modern man and Neanderthals were more than mere neighbours thousands of years ago. Swedish expert Professor Svante Paabo, of the Max Planck Institution for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, is sure the two species had sex during their 10-12,000-year coexistence some 30,000 years ago.
Yet Paabo, who made the claim during a conference in New York, is unsure as yet whether the cross-copulating led to children – and whether those children would have been infertile, as is the case in the offspring of lions and tigers, or horses and zebras.
Prof. Paabo, named among the world’s most influential hundred people by TIME magazine in 2007, is hoping his questions will be answered by his forthcoming analysis of the Neanderthal genome.
Fossils containing DNA from both humans and Neanderthals have been found in
recent years, leading many to concur with Prof. Paabo’s interbreeding theory. Yet studies of Neanderthal genes have thus far proved the pair’s genetic make-ups to be wildly different. Prof. Paabo hopes his work will provide an answer to this mystery.
“What I’m really interested in is, did we have children back then and did those children contribute to our variation today?” Prof. Paabo tells the Sunday Times. “I’m sure that they had sex, but did it give offspring that contributed to us? We will be able to answer quite vigorously with the new [Neanderthal genome] sequence.” His work is due to be published shortly. It’s not surprising Neanderthals found a taste for those outside their species if a recent paper from the University of Liverpool is to be believed: its experts claim Neanderthals lost out in the evolutionary war due to a seed-spreading sex obsession, rather than the monogamy of their human cousins.