James Fallow at the Atlantic discovers that he is 5% Neanderthal:
This evening, after a discussion between the Atlantic’s editor James Bennet and the geneticist Craig Venter, Spencer Wells of the National Geographic’s Genographic project described his ongoing effort to map humanity’s origins and migrations through comparing genetic markers in different population groups. I thought it was genuinely interesting — even before he revealed the results of analyses of the DNA of three Atlantic staffers in attendance: Alexis Madrigal, Steve Clemons, and me.
Each of us had peculiarities in his origin — in my case, that the mitochondrial DNA on my (mainly Scottish) mother’s side didn’t really match anything they had seen before. But the real payoff was the Neanderthal test. I am proud to announce that the Atlantic staffer with the most direct descent from Neanderthal man is … me, with 5 percent of my genes being Neanderthal.
Understanding our evolutionary past is a fascinating endeavor. While it is easy to think of ourselves as the product of a neat transition from Homo Habilis to Homo Erectus to Homo Sapien, the truth is far, far more complex. The difference between species is often hard to discern scientifically – for many year it was widely believed that Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals were completely separate species that did not interbreed – and now given the advances in genetics we know that assumption was wrong. Our DNA tells the intricate story of our evolution, pointing to our current state as a product of millions of years of cross breeding between subspecies, many of which we have yet to discover or label.
Technically, Neanderthals died out around 25,000 years ago. But as James Fallows discovered, they are also still very much alive.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.