15 Traits We May Have Inherited From Neanderthals

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Recent genetic studies have shown that if you are of European or Asian heritage, then around 2% of your genome originated from Neanderthals.

This legacy was picked up from 60 – 80,000 years ago, when successive waves of modern humans began migrating from Africa into Asia and Europe, encountering and interbreeding with their Neanderthal cousins who had evolved there from around 250,000 years ago.

Their hybrid children bore genes from both lineages, but eventually, modern human genes diluted Neanderthal genes to the extent that the species seemed to disappear from the archaeological record around 30,000 years ago.

Those Neanderthal genetic mutations which were not beneficial to modern humans were partially swept out by natural selection over time.  But some remnants are alive in the genomes of Europeans and Asians today.  So, if you exhibit any of the following traits, they may just be an echo of your inner Neanderthal.

1. Red hair

Neanderthals also likely had the same distribution of hair color as modern Eurasian populations, including a spectrum of red hair from auburn to brilliant red to strawberry blond.

2. Broad, projecting nose

The angle of the Neanderthal nose bone projected out with a wide opening, making it a large and prominent facial feature. It could be an influence on the modern human aquiline nose prevalent in the Neanderthal hotspots of southern Europe and the Near East, and amongst native North Americans whose genetic source has been traced to the Altai mountains of East/Central Asia.

3. Rosy cheeks

Neanderthals had a large mental foramen in their mandible for facial blood supply, meaning that their side jaws and cheeks were well supplied with blood. 

The result was a reddening of the cheeks, familiar to Eurasians inhabiting the northern latitudes when the weather is cold or doing physical exercise.

4. Space behind the wisdom teeth

Neanderthals had jaws large enough to comfortably house all of their teeth, even having a gap behind their wisdom teeth.  If, as commonly occurs, any of your wisdom teeth have become impacted or haven’t erupted at all, it may be because of your evolved smaller jaw doesn’t have the space to cope with these vestiges of our foliage-chewing past. If you have all 4 wisdom teeth with space to spare, you may have a Neanderthal ancestor to thank.

5. Elongated skull

The Neanderthal face tended to be larger, with a brain case set back in a longer skull.  An elongated skull may hint at a Neanderthal inheritance and is particularly common in the British Isles, Scandinavia, and Iberia.

6. Little or no protruding chin

The Neanderthals’ large jaw and protruding mid-face meant that they had a weak, or receding chin.  The receding chin in modern humans is normally a congenital condition.  It ran in the family of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs of the 18th dynasty, to which Tutankhamun (1341 BC – 1323 BC) belonged.

7. Fair skin and freckles

Neanderthals, who ranged from Western Europe to Central Asia, probably had the same distribution of skin color as modern humans, including fair skin and freckles. Fair skin is an advantage at northern latitudes because it is more efficient at generating vitamin D from weak sunlight.  

Freckles are clusters of cells that overproduce melanin granules; they are triggered by exposure to sunlight and are most noticeable on pale skin.  It is the result of a Neanderthal gene and is found in Eurasian populations, most commonly in Europeans (70% have at least one copy of the Neanderthal version).

8. Large eyes

The large eye sockets in Neanderthal skulls indicate that they had large eyeballs to fill them. Anthropologists have suggested that they required larger eyes to enable them to see in the weaker sunlight of the northern latitudes.

Some further suggest that they devoted more brain power to processing visual input than to higher-level processing, and this is partly why modern humans had the evolutionary edge on them.

9. Wide fingers and thumbs

A comparison of Neanderthal and average modern human finger bones shows how much more robust Neanderthal hands were – especially the tips (distal phalanges).

In fact, research suggests that the slenderness of modern human hands helped to give us the advantage over Neanderthals. While Neanderthals had much greater hand strength, our precision grip gave us the technological and cultural leap in developing more sophisticated tools and art.

10. Straight, thick hair

humanorigins.si.edu

Genetic analysis has revealed that 70% of modern East Asians inherited Neanderthal mutations in genes involved in the production of keratin filaments, which may be responsible for straightening and thickening hair.

A Neanderthal inheritance of straight, thick hair may have helped modern humans to adapt to non-African environments; straighter hair tends to be oily and thicker hair is insulating, which would have been an advantage in colder northern latitudes.

11. Difficulty with nicotine addiction

Neanderthals did not (as far as we know!) smoke cigarettes, but one of the gene variants they passed on to modern humans is associated with the difficulty in trying to stop smoking. What particular function this mutation originally had in Neanderthals is a mystery.

12. Increased risk of long-term depression?

Depression may have started in our hunter-gatherer past (the way we have lived for at least 90% of our history).  When an aging hunter (who would have been old by his early 30s) began to lose his speed and agility, his feelings of uselessness and alienation from his tribe may have been a prompt for the tribe to rally round and support him. Similar feelings may have haunted the aging female (again, in her 30s) in the face of her declining fertility prior to menopause. Investing in the survival of her grandchildren may have given her a sense of purpose (and an evolutionary edge).

13. Blood clots

In ancient times of Neanderthals, it might have been quite useful for blood to clot more quickly: a wound would close faster and an infection would find it harder to set in.

But in the modern setting, where people no longer have to hunt dangerous wild animals, the trait is definitely less advantageous. Hypercoagulation can increase the risk for stroke, embolism and complications in pregnancy.

14. Immunity against Eurasian pathogens

Having evolved in Eurasia over hundreds of thousands of years, Neanderthals developed the HLA receptor that provided them with immunity against the many local pathogens that lurked in the forests, rivers and caves of Europe and Asia.  There was a distinct evolutionary advantage for the newly arrived modern humans from Africa to inherit this receptor.

15. Increased risk of lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks normal, healthy tissue.  It can affect the skin, joints, kidneys, brain, and other organs.  It affects around 53 per 100,000 people in the US and around 40 per 100,000 people in Northern Europe, but it occurs more frequently and with greater severity among those of non-European descent.

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