The Neanderthals and Denisovans
The Neanderthals and Denisovans are practical case studies for determining whether a species is fully “human.”
The focus of this essay is on the characteristics that make a species fully “human”. In connection to this, the essay will discuss what is known about Neanderthals and Denisovans, which are practical case studies used in establishing if a species is fully human. The essay will focus more on Neanderthals and finally, the paper will argue if Neanderthals were fully humans.
Physical characteristics that make a human ancestor “fully human” include being more lightly built and showing extremely robust traits. Long bones of the limbs and distal bones being longer than the proximal bones, a larger fore-brain and having a chin, smaller teeth, fewer jaw muscles, and smaller lower faces are atypical to fully human. Intellectual characteristics encompass the ability to abstract thought, express cultural creativity, and use language to communicate (Hawks, 2014).
Neanderthals are extinct human species within the Homo genus. The species evolved within the last 300,000 years. In regard to the anatomy of Neanderthals, it is essentially within human scope, with the equivalent number of bones as modern humans and they also function in the same way. The anatomical differences include that Neanderthals had a more robust build and distinguishing morphological features. They had shorter limbs, a barrel-shaped rib cage, and a bigger nose as compared to modern humans.
According to Trinkaus & Shipman (1992), they were much stronger when compared to modern humans with extremely strong arms and hands and had comparative height and weight with modern humans. They had bigger sockets and bigger brain sections controlling vision – the reason there are perceived to have had better eyesight than modern humans. They had a big brain capacity; approximately 1200-1750 ml and hence about 100 ml bigger than modern humans (Gibbons, 2011).
In regard to culture, Neanderthals buried the dead, controlled fire use, performed religious rituals, and utilized complex sentence structures within their spoken language (Trinkaus & Shipman, 1992). Neanderthals and modern humans inhabited the same cave though at different times, used similar tools, and hunted the same animals. A comparison of Neanderthal genomes and that of modern humans indicated only 78 new nucleotide substitutions. They also interbred with modern humans indicating some compatibility (Gibbons, 2011).
Denisovans are extinct human species and were much different from modern humans. They live about 1,000,000 years ago. The finger bone that has been discovered so far was abnormally wide and robust. Denisovans lived in caves like Neanderthals and modern humans did. Their DNA has been found to be genetically different from that of Neanderthals and modern humans (Gibbons, 2011).
Neanderthals are fully human. They engaged in cultural habits that modern humans practice such as burying their dead and using tools, had an intricate social structure, and used language. Neanderthal anatomy is essentially within the human scope and with differences that are very minor and can be attributed to genetic adjustments because they were isolated individuals who lived a rigorous life within a harsh, cold climate. Their genome components also indicate similarity with that of humans where there have been only78 nucleotide substitutions within the last 78 years and such few changes indicate human lineage where only genetic modifications and mutations have occurred (Gibbons, 2011).
Characteristics atypical to a fully human consist of the ability to use language, intellectual ability, formation of social structure, and ability to perform cultural activities such as burying the dead and religious rituals. The anatomical characteristics are similar to the anatomical features found in modern humans. In this view, Denisovans are not fully humans but Neanderthals are fully humans because they had almost all the characteristics found in modern humans.
- Gibbons, A. (2011). Who Were the Denisovans? Science. Vol.26 (333).
- Gibbons, A. (2011). Close Encounters of the Prehistoric Kind. Science. Vol.7 (328).
- Hawks, J. (2014). Still Evolving. Scientific American.
- Trinkaus, E & Shipman, P. (1992). The Neanderthals: Changing the Images of Mankind. New York: Knophf.
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