Two research reports add to our knowledge of our wandering cousins, the Neandertals and the Denisovans. Both of these populations have disappeared but some of their genes have carried on through modern populations. Many of European extraction have some Neandertal in them, and that makes sense because Homo sapiens cohabited Europe with them for some thousands of years. I previously posted about Denisovan genes found in a Himalayan population that helps their blood adapt to high altitude living conditions (see post 7/20/18). How did this happen? We know about the Denisovans because of archeological findings at a cave in central Russia, and now scientists have uncovered Denisovan fossils in the Himalayas. Evidently these cousins wandered a good deal as well. The grass is always greener, as they say, at least until you reach the high Himalayas, and then the snow is quite white. Anyway, a Buddhist monk found the Denisovan fossil in a cave and reported it to the science authorities, who have confirmed it as Denisovan (see Science News edition from 6/1/19).
A remarkable suite of scientific analyses focused on a ancient campsite has indicated that Neandertals visited there periodically for many years probably as a part of seasonal migration. Now the science involved here is daunting. Chemical analyses of varied and complex sorts showing the age of campfire remains, foodstuffs, etc. If interested check out the PLOS article even if you, like me, cannot follow their methods fully. It is something else again to consider how sophisticated their analyses are. So our ancestors wandered and migrated according to the seasons, like any smart mobile mammal.
For some reason I have a yearning to finish this post with passages from Tennyson’s great poem ‘Ulysses’ about our aging hero taking off on a last voyage, having grown tired of mundane life without the adventure of wandering afar. Was Lord Alfred channeling our cousins or just carrying out our own genetic mandate to see what’s about? Anyway, here are some excerpts (but read the whole poem—it will stir your blood to travel on).
Come, my friends,
Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
. . . .
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,–
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.