When you’re sick it’s hard to concentrate. I’ve got a nice stock of books on my kindle but no brain cells to process them. Also, being sick means I’m exhausted like I ran a marathon so I sleep all day and when it’s night time of course I can’t sleep. Illness is a bitch like that.
What do you do when you’re dumb and bored? Television!
So there I was, watching Nova on Netflix and all I can tell you is that either Nova has changed or I have. When I was a kid growing up in backwater nowhere, a rare glimpse of Nova on one of our two channels was the tantalizing hint that there was intelligent life in the world. (If I saw Nova and Dr. Who in the same day, it was like a trip to the edge of the intellectual universe and a vacation in a faraway land where people had cool accents and lousy BBC microphones.) What can I say, it wasn’t easy growing up a small town long before the internet.
Now I’m watching Nova and all I can think is “No shit Sherlock, I already knew that… can you speed up the mental on-ramp chucklehead voice over man?” But alas no, it plods along at the speed of what… an eight grader? Was it always like that?
Anyhow I was watching a Nova episode about Neanderthals. I’ve been following this topic in the popular press and more technical articles with considerable interest. Genetic studies are slowly kicking the crap out of old theories and I think it’s been a long time coming. I’ve had many a beef over the years with Anthropology as taught when I was in school.
It seemed oddly self referential to little white chickenshit professors. Something was missing. Based on nothing other than my gut and ample scepticism I thought they were missing key points about the cunning (and adaptive!) killer that is man. Most of what I’m seeing on Nova repeats is about five years behind the times of what I’ve read elsewhere and nearly all of it torpedoes the horseshit that was “settled science” not too long before that. It’s nice to see knowledge disseminated, and did I mention I was too sick to read a good book instead?
Back to Neanderthals. The old theory was that anatomically modern humans swept out of sub Saharan Africa and promptly murdered the heck out of the pre existing European population of semi-retarded Neanderthal rednecks. They did this super well because they were like better at making spearpoints or some shit.
Really? That’s the theory? It seemed a mite odd to me. Dumbass or not, the folks who’ll kill a Mastodon with a stick have clearly got something going on with the whole “hard to kill” department. They wouldn’t seem (to me) the type to go easily into that dark night. Then again I’m not a tenured professor of staring at rock chips, so what do I know.
Apparently more than I thought. Genetic studies have come up with a new theory. Anatomically modern humans swept out of sub Saharan Africa and joined in a smelly prehistoric sexual free for all with the pre existing Neanderthal population. This makes sense to me. Of itself the “ruttin’ in the Alps” theory still leaves the question of why we wound up with Homo Sapiens instead of Neanderthal or some hybrid of the two but there’s a ready explanation at hand. While Nova never really came out and said it clearly, they hinted that the incoming population outnumbered the pre-existing one by a large factor. This too makes sense to me and explains why the genetic contribution of Neanderthal is a relatively small percentage.
So there you have it, a theory that sounded like shit when I was a student is turning out to be shit as the science of genetics matures. Cool.
The next concept, which seems a bit fuzzier to me, was that the main genetic effect of Neanderthal breeding has to do with biological resistance to certain diseases. I have a feeling that’ll get fleshed out more as eggheads sort the data.
I clicked the show off.
I started thinking about my Curmudgeonly genes. I seem to be the canary in the coal mine for colds. You can punch me in the head with a truck and that’s just sorta’ a bummer but some sticky child sneezes on me and I’m a dead man. Same for my limited knowledge of my family lines. Seems like they live forever if you don’t kill ’em… so long as they don’t wind up being the lucky ebola lottery winner. (And I swear if there’s a one in a million chance someone hacked up on a doorknob it’ll find my hand.) How the hell did my gene line make it past the black death? A long line of European cannon fodder to produce me, an American with a glass jaw for flu? Answer me that, Nova!
Mrs. Curmudgeon found me sitting in the dark in front of a wood stove that had gone out. She coaxed my ass back to bed. I’m pretty sure I was mumbling something about Neanderthals and Bubonic Plague but she’s used to such crap.