23andMe.com, 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.