Neanderthal DNA

neanderthal, the online DNA-analysis company, came back to us with information on our Neanderthal descent. Mine is 2.6 percent; Partner’s is 2.8 percent.

There’s been lots of disagreement about our Neanderthal cousins. They were shorter than us and almost certainly stronger, with heavy brow ridges, and maybe larger brains. But Homo sapiens sapiens somehow swamped them, and now they’re gone.

Except that our H. sapiens sapiens ancestors (evidently) interbred with them.

The Neanderthal genome has been recovered from fossils and compared to the modern human genome. Result: most people of European and Asian descent have at least one percent Neanderthal DNA; some have as much as four percent. (People of pure African descent have none at all, or nearly none.)

It’s fun to think about our caveman ancestry. I even bought the t-shirts that 23andMe offered, with a cute Fred Flintstone-type caveman depicted on them, and Partner’s and my respective percentages printed alongside.

But maybe I’m proud of my Homo sapiens sapiens ancestry too. Maybe I’m proud of all my ancestors, unicellular and multicellular, mammalian and primate. They all had one thing in common: they reproduced, and their offspring lived long enough to reproduce also.

I have not had children in my lifetime, and almost certainly never will. My genome (such as it is) will be lost. But hopefully my nephews and nieces will manage to carry on the odd and unique messages in our family DNA.

I feel like a caveman, thinking about a future I won’t share.

But maybe – just maybe – some fragment of my family inheritance will survive in that future.

Here’s hoping.


About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

2 Responses to Neanderthal DNA

  1. starproms says:

    How fascinating. I looked on the website. I would love to have my DNA checked. I doubt if they would do it for someone in England though, given the distance. I shall have to look for something similar over here. It would make a good birthday present wouldn’t it! I am interested in mine because like you I have ancestors from far and wide. Particularly interesting to me is the fact that I may have Moorish ancestry and be descended from someone in Saladin’s army. Coupled with my Dutch family and my Irish gypsy ancestor, it makes for an interesting mix. I would like to know which part of the world my genes predominate from.

    • Oh, I think they have results from people all over the world; I know that some of the people that they’ve connected me with are in Scandinavia and eastern Europe.

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