Reasons to Believe

DNA Study Cuts Link with the Past

The slender thread of hope held by paleontologists and anthropologists for establishing a link between Neanderthals and modern humans has been severed at last. This conclusion comes from studies reported by two research teams, one from the University of Stockholm and the other from the University of Glasgow, and it carries profound implications for the evolutionary hypothesis.1

Neanderthals were bipedal primates, living from 150,000 to 30,000 years ago in Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia.2 Because Neanderthals appear in the fossil record immediately before modern humans and possess some shared anatomical features with modern humans, scientists have long regarded Neanderthal as the transitional intermediate between modern humans and the more primitive “Homo” species of bipedal primates.

The 1992 discovery of pronounced anatomical differences between Neanderthals and humans, differences from genes rather than from environment and lifestyle, first frayed the evolutionary link.3-4 Then, in 1997, a landmark article appeared in the journal Cell. Comparing a sequenced fragment of Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA (painstakingly drawn from a 40,000- to 100,000-year-old skeleton found in West Germany) with the corresponding fragment of human DNA, researchers showed that Neanderthals made no contribution to the genetics of modern humans.5-6

This work, an example of science at its best, received high acclaim and little criticism; yet the fear of contamination that always accompanies analysis of ancient DNA made scientists uneasy about fully embracing the conclusions. That uneasiness was all but erased when a second study—on a different fragment from the specimen—yielded the same result.7

The Glasgow and Stockholm research teams made the decisive cut. They independently isolated and sequenced mitochondrial DNA from a second Neanderthal specimen, a 29,000-year-old skeleton (an infant) found in the easternmost part of the Neanderthal range. Both teams reported identical results, and these were consistent with the results of the earlier studies: no genetic link between Neanderthals and humans.8

Given that tests were performed on different specimens from the extremes of the Neanderthal range and separated in time by more than 10,000 years (one dated very close to the advent of modern humans), these results are extraordinarily convincing. One candidate remains as a “possible” but improbable transitional intermediate: Homo antecessor, a bipedal primate dated at 800,000 years ago and known only from the partial jaw bone of a single specimen.9-10 A preponderance of evidence, however, points toward fiat creation of humans by the hand of the Creator.

References:

  1. Matthias Hoss, “Studying Ancient DNA,” Nature 404 (2000): 453.
  2. Roger Lewin, Principles of Human Evolution (Malden, MA:Blackwell Science, Inc., 1998), 365.
  3. Christopher Stringer and Robin McKie, African Exodus: The Origins of Modern Humanity (New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, 1996), 85-114.
  4. Stringer and McKie, 85-89.
  5. Matthias Krings et al., “Neandertal DNA Sequences and the Origin of Modern Humans,” Cell 90 (1997): 19-30.
  6. Hugh Ross, “Neadertal Takes a One-Eighty,” Facts and Faith Vol. 11, No. 3 (1997): 4-5.
  7. Matthias Krings et al., “DNA Sequence of the Mitochondrial Hypervariable Region II from the Neandertal Type Specimen,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A. 96 (1999): 5581-5585.
  8. Igor V. Ovchinnikov et al., “Molecular Analysis of Neandertal DNA from the Northern Caucasus,” Nature 404 (2000): 490-493.
  9. J. M. Bermudez de Castro et al., “A Hominid from the Lower Pleistocene of Atapuerca Spain: Possible Ancestor to Neandertals and Modern Humans,” Science 276 (1997): 1392-95.
  10. Fuz Rana, “Up (and Away) from the Apes,” Connections 1, No. 4, (1999): 3-4.

Subjects: Neanderthals, TCM - Human Origins

Dr. Fazale Rana

In 1999, I left my position in R&D at a Fortune 500 company to join Reasons to Believe because I felt the most important thing I could do as a scientist is to communicate to skeptics and believers alike the powerful scientific evidence—evidence that is being uncovered day after day—for God’s existence and the reliability of Scripture. Read more about Dr. Fazale Rana