This is something that has been argued about by many people since the first Neanderthal skull was discovered in the 1850s, in no small part between evolutionists and creationists. However, today I’m going to try and prove my point, not by looking at Christian/creationist sites and scholars, but by looking to secular/evolutionist information.
The original – and still disturbingly persistent – view of Neanderthals is that they are stupid, hairy, and generally very primitive – a link between us and monkeys. This view was perpetuated in no small part by evolutionists who wanted people to believe that Neanderthals were an early ancestor of modern humans, inferior to us in every way. A lot of early artwork of Neanderthals depicts them as being very monkey-like.
Thankfully, evolutionists have progressed somewhat since then. They now recognise that Neanderthals didn’t exist simply before Homo sapiens, as originally thought, but in fact co-existed with Neanderthals for, at their estimates, between 5000 and 10000 years.
Scientist have also found proof that Neanderthals had many “human” traits, such as burying their dead, making and playing musical instruments, caring for the elderly and infirm, and the ability to speak.
This article claims that although Neanderthals could talk, their inability to vocalise the difference between long and short vowels, for example the words “beat” and “bit” mentioned in the article, must thus have limited Neanderthal speech dramatically. This, I must say, is utterly ridiculous. There are many, many languages spoken today which make little or no distinction between long and short vowels – a quick example which comes to mind is Spanish. No-one can say that Spanish is in any way a primitive or limited language (it’s the fourth most spoken language in the world and is spoken in more than twenty countries), and yet my Spanish teacher often joked about how he had to be careful not to hand out a “shit of paper”, and how it took him a long time to be able to hear the difference between “shit” and “sheet”, let alone pronounce it.
However, if all these discoveries about Neanderthals aren’t enough to convince you that they’re human, here’s something that really will: not only have Neanderthal-Sapiens hybrids been found, but through sequencing both the Neanderthal and modern human genomes, it has been discovered that almost everyone has a certain amount of Neanderthal genes in them – the only ethnic groups which have not been found to have Neanderthal DNA are in sub-Saharan Africa (fitting in nicely with the evolutionist Sapiens-out-of-Africa theory, I have to admit, but more on that later), while all other ethnic groups have a minimum of between 1% and 4% Neanderthal genes. And that’s just a minimum – since Neanderthal and modern human DNA is 99.7% the same, some scientists suggest that modern humans might carry more that 20% Neanderthal DNA. Another human “species”, the Denisovans, have had their DNA sequenced, too, and results from that seem to show that, while there’s a very little bit of Denisovan in all of us, some ethnic groups, such as Melanesians, Papua New Guineans, and Aboriginal Australians, have around 6% Denisovan DNA – which came as a bit of a surprise to the geneticists, because the Denisovan fossils in question were found in Siberia.
(The irony of those findings is that, back when Neanderthals were considered to be a more primitive version of hominid, scientists claimed that sub-Saharan Africans were “less-evolved” than Europeans. According to these statistics, it’s sub-Saharan Africans who are the least primitive of us all, since they carry no Neanderthal DNA.)
Well, this is all very well, Rachel, you might say, but what does it have to do with anything? Well, the important thing here is the distinction between a “breed” (or “race”, as it’s called in humans), and a “species”. The general gist of the difference is that interbreeding between different species is pretty much impossible. Closely-related species may be able to interbreed, but any offspring are never viable – that is, they can’t have children of their own. It’s well-known that the child of a horse and a donkey – either a mule or a hinny, depending on which parent is which – is sterile. Chicken-Guinea Fowl hybrids have been successfully hatched, but those offspring are very unlikely, and despite living average-length lives, are never fertile. Chicken-Quail hybrids have yet to be created, despite looking a whole lot more like each other than chickens and guinea fowl.
Different breeds or races of the same species, on the other hand, can interbreed freely and easily, creating viable and fertile offspring every time. In keeping with the poultry theme, almost all of my chooks are cross- and mixed-breed (as are my sister’s ducks).
Basically, the point I’m getting at is, if modern humans have Neanderthal (and Denisovan) DNA in them, we can’t be different species. If we were different species, had any Neanderthal-Sapiens hybrids been produced, they would have been unable to have children and thus their mixed genes would not have been passed on to us. However, if Sapiens and Neanderthals were, in fact, the same species, this would have been entirely possible.
And if that weren’t enough, archaeologists have recently found a skull which exhibits traits found in all four human “species” (Sapiens, Neanderthal, Denisovan, and Erectus) – in the same cave and from the same time as skulls from “pure-bred” members of each of those species! Some scientists suggested that that evidence should cause them to re-evaluate and re-define the disparate human “species” as being one species that happened to show disparate characteristics, but the more conventional-thinkers scoffed at that. (Surprise, surprise).
The fact that this particular collection of skulls was found in the near east, where the Tower of Babel was, and where humans would have lived before God muddled up our languages and sent us off on our way to the various corners of the earth to become distinct peoples (races, tribes, nations, whatever), surely can’t be a coincidence. I’ll say it again: there’s less than a 0.3% genetic difference between the average Neanderthal and the average modern human – while, according to some sources, there is up to an 11% genetic difference between any given two modern humans today!
Scientists often say, “Wouldn’t it be great if Neanderthals were still around today? We could find out what it really means to be human!”. To this I say, if there were still full-blooded Neanderthals around today (which there might be, but I’m not going into that right now), we wouldn’t even realise they’re a different species. (Because they’re not).
Well, I hope all that has, if not convinced you that Neanderthals are the same species as us, at the very least taught you something new about them. Either way, I’m going to leave you with some rather more recent reconstructions of what Neanderthals might have looked like. The first one comes from the National Geographic, and you probably saw it a couple of years ago when they published it. (Don’t you just want to tell her, “Would it kill you to smile? Or wash, for that matter?!”)
Oh, and just out of interest, here’s an article about Neanderthal skin tones: