PART ONE — A page from Willie Brant’s diary — Met an old friend at Tim’s the other day, in the course of a conversation he was telling me he had his DNA checked, seems you can pay $50 or something and they will take a sample of you and figure out all your roots. Struck me as a scam, I bet if I submitted two samples, one under the name ‘McSnuff’ and one under the name ‘Zoomski’ I would get two different results, but I kept that thought to myself. Then he surprised me, he said that all this DNA work is showing that we have Neanderthal DNA mixed with ours. Can’t remember if it was all Europeans have 3% Neanderthal, or 3% of Europeans are mostly Neanderthal, I can think of a few guys might fit that last group.
Anyway up to now science has been saying there were near-human critters they called ‘Neanderthal’ populating parts of Europe until recent times, they could tell they weren’t really human because their head-bones and jawbones were different than ours. So this seems like a huge confession of incompetence, they have been wrong all these years. But it sure hasn’t been number one item on TV news, not important enough I guess.
Had to stop on the way home and lay this bit on Joe. He said he has read some stuff about this in some of the technical crap he wades through, never a word less than 3 syllables. Said there was quite a Neanderthal population in central/western Europe until quite recent times. Had a twinkle in his eye which told me my leg was about to be pulled when he said a lot of people in that part of the world have a heavy beard and a lot of black, curly hair all over their body, “Sort of like you, Willy, maybe they are descended from the Neanderthal, maybe you are one of them”.
“Stuff that”, from me.
“Anyway”, from Joe, “mother nature has her way of keeping the species separate. If we cross two critters which are close, but not the same species, their offspring will be sterile. So cross a horse and a donkey, you get a hinnie or a mule, and they are sterile. So horse and donkey are different species. Same with a horse and a zebra. So if we find Neanderthal DNA in people, clearly we are the same species, just look a bit different.”
I piped in “We go too much by appearance anyway. Look at dogs, they are all the same species, you can cross any breed with any other breed. But some are tiny cutesy little critters, and some great big ugly guys, long tails, short tails, long noses, short noses, and of course there are real dogs like my border collie. But dogs don’t seem to pay any attention to what other dogs look like, they all relate to each other as fellow citizens of Dogdom. Too bad we people couldn’t be more like our dogs, they don’t pay attention to the appearance or breed of another dog, and we shouldn’t pay attention to the appearance or race of another person, we are all fellow citizens of the earth!”
Joe ended the discussion with “Willy, that is pretty profound, maybe we should make you Prime Minister or something.” Don’t know whether that was a compliment or an insult.
PART TWO – SOME COMMENTARY ON NEANDERTHAL
Some readers might recall my story about our adventures with a Sasquatch back in 1987. As a result of the notoriety that gave us, dozens (hundreds?) of people came to look at our quarter mile of tracks and tell me their Sasquatch stories. Some gave me or lent me books and there is a lot of serious and not so serious literature out there. As a result I actually met Professor Bindernagel, Cryptobiologist, now deceased. I have a copy of his book, “North America’s Great Ape – The Sasquatch”. It is the best reference I have found as it is not evangelical at all, most books are trying to sell or unsell the idea; this one just recites the facts.
Anyway, one book which I can’t find now, maybe lent to me and returned, contained a fascinating tale which sort of relates to the Neanderthal idea from last week. The following is from memory from 30 years ago, so might not be exactly right in all details.
About a hundred and fifty years ago, a (British?) Scholar became aware of a folk tale strongly held in a small village in the Ural Mountains of Russia. He went there to investigate, and reported on what the local people told him.
Remember we were very much in the feudal system in those days, where Nobility owned all and most of the people were Serfs – agricultural workers who were tied to the land and beholden to the Noble, but not Slaves as they could not be bought and sold. Mostly this worked better than you might think – I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with a much older cousin of my dad, she said her mother remembered her life as a happy time growing up as a child of serfs in a remote village in eastern Bohemia. This got messed up by the war of 1870, and the family emigrated to the US while she was still a child, but she retained that happy impression.
But if you got an evil Noble, your life as a Serf could be bad. One choice was to run away into the wilderness, and establish a life there as an ‘Outlaw’, think Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Of course the Establishment did their best to round up these outlaws, but there were substantial outlaw villages in remote areas all over Europe, some survived for many years. I expect the Ural mountain village was one of these.
The tale given the Scholar by the Ural villagers was from perhaps a hundred years before he got there, but still very vivid in the collective memory of the village. It seems an abandoned, starving child-giant was found near death by the villagers, who brought her home and raised her as one of their own. She grew to be a very large, very strong, shall we say very plain woman who was not very good at language. But she was able to earn her place in the community with her strength and patience in doing manual work; they provided her with her own house and she lived out her life with them. She even raised a couple of sons, presumably fathered by wayward village men. The boys were a bit better at communication, also big strong patient workers, and also lived out their lives as villagers.
So what is the point of this tale? The sons were sterile! So the big girl was near human, but a different species, sort of like a donkey versus a horse! She was a different animal, not just a freakish human.