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Sex In The Stone Age Facts

 Actors Amy Schulster as a Neanderthal woman and Jaiden Kaine as homo sapiens.

Actors Amy Schulster as a Neanderthal woman and Jaiden Kaine as homo sapiens. (View larger version)

Photograph by National Geographic Channels


  • The period when Homo sapiens, Neanderthals, and Denisovans roamed the earth, 30,000-50,000 years ago, was also the age of megafauna: enormous land mammals such as woolly mammoths, stright-tusked elephants, Scimitar cats, cave bears, and cave hyenas that lived at that time.

  • Everyone of non-African descent can trace between 1% and 4% of their genes back to Neanderthals, indicating that Homo sapiens interbred with the oft-caricatured hominin.

  • Neanderthals are named after Neander Valley where the first remains were disovered. The valley was named for a venerable 17th century clergyman who lived in the region. Likewise, Denisovans are named for Denisova Cave, which is named for a hermit who lived there in the 18th century.

  • The Denisovan finger bone, that first gave us evidence of this entirely new hominin, is believed to have belonged to a young girl who died between the age of 5 and 7.

  • When Homo sapiens interbred with Neanderthals and Denisovans we acquired certain immune system genes. It may have protected our ancestors from some diseases at the time as Neanderthals were thought to be better adapted to their environment. Unfortunately, the immunity genes Neanderthals shared with us also might be the root of other health problems today like autoimmune disorders.

  • The Denisovan Cave dig site camp was set up in the late-1970s by the Russian Academy of Sciences. The camp is in the remote Altai Mountains of Siberia. With running hot water, snug individual cottages and a dining hall— it's an oasis of modern comfort in an expanse of wilderness.

  • A tiny finger bone was the first Denisovan speciman to be tested but it wasn't the first specimen unearthed. A giant tooth was uncovered in 2000. But when a student was hit by a truck near the dig site, the tooth was hastily packed up during the emergency and went unrecognized as Denisovan until 2009.

  • In 2006, Svante Pääbo commenced "The Neandertal Genome Project" – an ambitious attempt to sequence the genome of our closest relative. By 2010, over 60% of the Neanderthal genome was accounted for.

  • Until two years ago, before Pääbo released his preliminary results of the "Neandertal Genome Project", many in the scientific community believed that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens did not interbreed. Pääbo's research and the discovery of Denisovans have signficantly changed this view. Now there's evidence that Homo sapiens interbreed with Neanderthals and Denisovans.

  • Ozzy Ozzbourne is the first rock star and one of the few people in the world to have his genome completely sequenced. A segment of Ozzy's genome can be traced back to Neanderthal lineage.

  • Svante Pääbo is the Director at the Max Planck Institute, Department of Evolutionary Genetics. Besides Neanderthal genomics, the group pursues other scientific projects like human and great ape genetic history.

  • Confused about whether to spell it 'Neanderthal' or 'Neandertal'? Both are correct! 'Neanderthal' is the original spelling, derived from the German valley where the fossils were first discovered. However, since in 1901 the German name of the valley was changed to Neandertal. Some scientists chose to change the spelling of the name of species as well.

  • Neanderthals ruled Europe for an estimated 200,000 years until modern humans moved into the region about 45,000 years ago. The two species roamed the area at the same time, sometimes mating with each other, until all or most of the Neanderthals all died out about 33,000 years ago.

  • Viktor Deak, one of the top paleoartists in the world, blends science with art by reconstructing ancient hominids digitally and by making life-size Plasticine sculptures.

  • Scientists have begun to take a second look at hominid remains that were previously strictly classified as either Neanderthal or Homo sapiens. It's now recognized that there are generations of hybrid ancestors that would have carried traits of both groups.

M. Waters
M. Waters

Wow.. it must have been amazing, three different types of humans living at the same time?  The human family tree is growing new branches in leaps and bounds!!