Are you feeling angry? Upset? Disgusted? Sort of like Donald Trump? Well, you can blame some of it on your Neanderthal genes. Homo sapiens? Yes, we are. But did you know that most of us, especially those with European or Asian ancestors, have a gene pool where 2% of our genes comes from the Neanderthals, not from the Homo sapiens?
If you do not recall the evolutionary battle between the early Homo sapiens and the Neanderthals, let me offer a brief history. 50,000 years ago, when the Homo sapiens emerged in Africa, we were forced to compete with the Neanderthals, especially in the Middle East. If Vegas had been around in those days, we would not have been the betting favorites. I’d say our odds would have been 10:1 against us.
Neanderthals had already been the planet for 200,000 years. They were stronger, tougher, and even smarter. At the beginning of the competition their brains were much bigger than ours. But we had two evolutionary advantages. We had two anatomical changes that were crucial to our eventual triumph: the Achilles tendon and the nuchal ligament. The Achilles tendon allowed us to run and the nuchal ligament allowed our heads to remain upright.
In those days we did not kill the animals with the brute force of the Neanderthals. We ran down the animals, covering long distances, until the animals died of heat exhaustion. We could sweat to lower our heatl; the animals could not. With this tactic for gathering meat, we needed increased cognitive function as we had to visualize and strategize as we chased the targeted animal into the herd, through the herd, and out across the plains. By jogging and running, by thinking and plotting, our brains grew progressive bigger and bigger. Our intelligence exploded.
However, just because we eventually triumphed, that does not mean that we did not have some intimate relationships with the Neanderthals. Who knows, maybe a few of them were actually good looking? Or maybe a few of them had a warm, pleasant personality? In any case we absorbed their genes into our own human genetic pool. Recent studies have shown that around 98% of our genes come from the early Homo sapiens and that 2% of our genes come from the earlier Neanderthals.
That fact was established in 2010 when genetic archeologists determined specific codes of genes that were clearly Neanderthal, not human. There is an article in this month’s Journal of Science, which explains how these genes were mapped and decoded. There is no longer any debate. We clearly picked up some of their genes, as we struggled for our own survival.
So, what Neanderthal genes did we inherit? Some of the Neanderthal genes were beneficial. For example, the Neanderthal’s genes were good for blood coagulation, which helped them survive injuries. Their genes also offered good tools for creating scabs and fighting off infections. So, through the centuries, we kept several of those Neanderthal genes. They increased our own survival odds.
Now, did we inherit some not-so-good genes? Recent research has tied some of our anger and depression, and even our capacity for addiction, to some Neanderthal genes. So, look around our political climate. We have a public, as demonstrated so far in the voting booths and led by Donald Trump, that is angry, upset, and more than disgusted, especially at the so-called leaders in Washington who have done nothing for the past 8 years.
But are those Neanderthal genes really so bad? If they were, evolution would have pared them away and left them in the trash heap. Anger, frustration, and even depression have a key role to play for all of us. Sometimes, in the midst of the anger and depression, we forget the value of those uncomfortable mental states. Yes, they feel bad. But they motivate us to take action – action to make our situations less frustrating, more acceptable. Better.
So, regardless of your politics and regardless of your like or dislike of Donald Trump, may I be the first to suggest that we call him our Neanderthal man? Yes, he is smart and successful – like so many Homo sapiens. But he is also angry, upset, and disgusted. Now that is a Neanderthal man swinging his club against some beast, fighting for his survival. At least it is reflective of those residual genes that lead to some of those behaviors.
Now, would Donald Trump be pleased with observation?
Would Donald Trump smile at this new label?
Personally, I think he would be just angry …