The Origin of Man

Of late I’ve been taken by this whole evolutionary biology thing.  The way organisms gradually develop into other organisms better suited to their environment is incredible and astounding and all sorts of other adjectives I would use to cushion my word count were I writing this for an assignment.  I’ve been particularly excited about computer simulations of evolution (like this one which simulates the hypothetical evolution of a clock) and the evolutionary ancestry of the human race.  Even more specifically, Neanderthals.

There is debate withinthe scientific community whether the Neanderthals were a separate species withing the Homo genus (homo neandertalus) or a subspecies of homo sapiens, as we are (homo sapiens neandertalus).  The difference being that if they were a subspecies, they would be able to mate with modern humans and produce viable offspring.  Otherwise, they would not be able to produce offspring with anatomically modern humans, or those offspring would be infertile.  I believe the common prevaling hypothesis is that they were a subspecies, thanks to elements of the human genome that are shown to be shared with neanderthals which were not present when the two species split, which would suggest interbreeding.

The question is related to the question of how the neanderthals went extinct.  There are two prevalent hypotheses here as well, each corresponding to whether neanderthals could interbreed with anatomically modern humans.  If they could (that is, were they a subspecies), they likely went extinct through assimilation with the human population.  That is, through extensive interbreeding, the two populations merged into one, which is indeed what is expected to occur when external barriers to breeding are removed between two subspecies.  However, if they were a separate species, then it is believed that they would have been driven to extinction by direct competition with modern humans.  Either way, the neanderthal is an extinct species.

But for a period of time (a very long period of time by standards of modern civilization), there were two or more species of intelligent, sapient beings on Earth, living in communities very near one another.  My hypothetical yet certainly not rhetorical question is this: how would society have evolved differently provided that (a) modern man and neanderthals were separate species, and not genetically compatible, and (b) rather than competing in prehistory, the two species comingled and formed mixed-race societies.

I do not have satisfying answers to this question, I’m afraid.  I do know how improbably such a scenario really is, but it is still an interesting thought experiment to try to imagine a modern society in which two separate races physically cannot reproduce.  Would inter-species marriages be allowed?  Would racism be softened by the years of literal inter-racial communities or would it be heightened?  Would such a society even be stable, considering there would undoubtedly be communities consisting entirely of one race or the other at least in the early history of humanity?  If the two species could produce offspring, but those offspring would be infertile, where would these children’s place be in society?

I want thoughtful answers, and I know that my adoring fans have been holding out on me as far as comments are concerned.  So come on, what would this society look like?  I really want to know!  In return, boobies:


1 Comment

Filed under Misc.

One response to “The Origin of Man

  1. Ben

    I shall read this… but I noticed your last graphic and chuckled. If you didn’t mean anything in particular by it, there’s a story you somehow haven’t heard about the avian family. Which a certain teacher is always overly eager to tell.

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