An anthropologist has extracted a gene from Neanderthal skeletons that he says explains the disappearance of this subspecies. “People don’t realize that Neanderthals actually had stronger brains than the modern Cro-Magnon men. They were stronger and tougher than Cro-Magnons came on the scene. Why, then did the Neanderthals die out?”
The answer, according to Professor Sheldon Harmon of the University of Wisconsin, was that the Neanderthals carried a gene that led them to resist change. “Neanderthals were the first environmentalists. They created a lifestyle in harmony with nature. They limited game hunting, and they controlled tool use. But the same ethos also made them intensely conservative and resistant to change. They disapproved of the newcomer Cro-Magnons, who painted caves, made elaborately decorated tools and who drove whole herds of animals over cliffs, causing species extinction. Today we consider the cave paintings a wondrous development. But the Neanderthals regarded them so much as graffiti. They saw it as prehistoric tagging. And they viewed the elaborate Cro-Magnon tools as wasteful and destructive of the environment. They disapproved of these innovations, and they stuck to the old ways. Eventually, they died out as a species.”
However, Harmon insists that the Neanderthals bred with the modern Cro-Magnons. “They unquestionably did because we have identified this same gene in modern human beings. This gene is clearly a Neanderthal remnant and it promotes cautious or reactionary behavior. Many of the people who today wish to return to the glorious past, or at the very least wish to keep things as they are, are driven by this same Neanderthal gene”. Harmon described the gene as modifying dopamine receptors in the lateral posterior singulate gyrus and in the right frontal lobe. “There’s no question about this mode of action”, he said.
Harmon’s claim has provoked a firestorm of criticism from academic colleagues. Not since E O Wilson published his sociobiology thesis two decades ago has such furious controversy erupted. According to Columbia University geneticist Vartan Gorvald, Harmon was injecting politics into what should be a purely scientific inquiry.
“Not at all,” Harmon said. “The gene is present in both Neanderthals and modern humans. Its action has been confirmed in scans of brain activity. The correlation between this gene and reactionary behavior is indisputable. It’s not a matter of politics, of left or right, it’s a question of basic attitude-whether you are open to the future or fearful of it. Whether you see the world as emergent or deteriorating. We have long known that some people favor innovation look positively toward the future, while others are frightened of change and want to halt innovation. The dividing line is genetic and represents the presence or absence of the Neanderthal gene.”
Article reference from Science Magazine’s “News of the Week” by Michael Chrichton in ‘Next’.
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