Cloning an Extinct Cousin: A New Life for Neanderthals?

In the next few months, the first draft of a Neanderthal’s genetic code will be published by a group of scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany.
In the latest issue of Archaeology Magazine (March/April 2010), this topic is thoroughly discussed; the cloning of Neanderthals. I can’t help but wonder what life would be like if our distant cousins were to walk this Earth again?
A burial from Kebara in Israel indicate that the Neanderthals had a social system requiring formal disposal of the dead. Neanderthals were the first humans to bury their dead 110,000 years ago. This indication lead paleoanthropologist Erik Trinkaus to think our species, the Homo Sapiens learned burial practices from the Neanderthals.
Early hominins such as Homo Erectus and Neanderthals had shovel-shaped incisor teeth, but the trait only appears in Homo Sapiens; Trinkaus believes that they might have interbred.

The Neanderthals broke away from the lineage of modern humans around 450,000 years ago. They had evolved larger brains and were shorter than their likely ancestor Homo heidelbergensis. On average, Neanderthals had brains that were 100 cubic centimeters larger than those of people living today! They also had greater muscle mass but those differences could be due to their larger overall body size.

Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens were in contact for 5,000 to 7,000 years. Both lived in the same type of environment but our species had a competitive advantage that gradually forced the Neanderthals to the edges of Europe. According to john Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin, “There are humans today who are more different from each other in phenotype (physical characteristics) than Neanderthals and our species when compared.” Many of the differences would be to between a Neanderthal and a modern human would be the changes the humans have gone through since the extinction of Neanderthals.

The ultimate goal of studying human evolution is to better understand the human race. Scientists argue that we would learn a lot more and better through a walking, living Neanderthal than by studying them through cells. It definitely seems like a good idea and too good to pass up but there will be ethical obstacles that need to be overcome. There will be people who are for it and some against it but in the end, they’ll probably get it done either way.

What do you think?


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Heidi says:

    The question of whether or not to clone… At some point we will need to start cloning species that have gone extinct in our own time due to habitat loss and climate change. Why not learn on something extinct? Though I do believe it would be more ethical to ‘learn’ on less intelligent beings. To clone one such as a Neanderthal- would require a life time commitment. After all, the cloned person may or may not have the ability to integrate into society. He or she would need committed parents and a family to fall back on. In short, this would need to be a pregnancy and child someone wanted for their own, forever. Any scientific benefit/exploration would have to be voluntary- this ancient new person would have to be given ‘human’ rights, and that would of course include the right to choose his or her own destiny.

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