Modern humans' ancient relatives were probably not Mensa material, but an exciting new discovery by paleoanthropologists suggests they were much more sophisticated than scientists had thought. The new study appears in the latest edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science (PDF).
DNA evidence may indicate a possibility of intelligence being a neutral trait in human evolution suggesting that ancient individuals living 3700–4100 years BP could have been as intelligent as modern humans.
The new study recently published in Science reveals that our forefathers were innovative thinkers who time and time again found new and better ways of doing things. The study shows, among other things, that an especially advanced technique used to make stone tools was not just discovered once and then simply copied.
Scientists have concluded that Neanderthals were not the primitive dimwits they are commonly portrayed to have been.
Indeed, to some scientists the find supports the idea that mental abilities associated with modern humans emerged when anatomically modern humans did, about 200,000 years ago, rather than resulting from a genetic mutation cropping up between 40,000 and 50,000 years ago, as others have posited.
Genetic studies have demonstrated that humans are still evolving. To investigate which genes are undergoing natural selection, researchers looked into the data produced by the International HapMap Project and the 1000 Genomes Project.
According to the “cultural brain hypothesis,” humans evolved large brains and great intelligence in order to keep up with our complex social groups. We've always been a social species, and we may have developed our intelligence in part to maintain those relationships and function successfully in these environments.
Both of the brain regions in which the Neanderthal fragments were discovered are involved in key functions such as learning and coordinating movements. However despite this, the scientists stressed there is no indication the DNA pieces have any effect on the cognitive abilities of modern humans.
When did Neanderthals live? The Neanderthals have a long evolutionary history. The earliest known examples of Neanderthal-like fossils are around 430,000 years old. The best-known Neanderthals lived between about 130,000 and 40,000 years ago, after which all physical evidence of them vanishes.
East Asians seem to have the most Neanderthal DNA in their genomes, followed by those of European ancestry. Africans, long thought to have no Neanderthal DNA, were recently found to have genes from the hominins comprising around 0.3 percent of their genome.
"Much stronger and faster than humans, but they had no endurance." Neanderthals, who coexisted with Homo sapiens until roughly 20,000 years ago, may have also posed a challenge to modern humans in terms of power.
The great apes are considered to be the smartest creatures after humans. Among them, orangutans stand out as being especially gifted with brain. They have a strong culture and system of communication, and many have been observed to use their tools in forest.
While there is no proof that modern humans have become physically weaker than past generations of humans, inferences from such things as bone robusticity and long bone cortical thickness can be made as a representation of physical strength.
Born in Boston in 1898, William James Sidis made the headlines in the early 20th century as a child prodigy with an amazing intellect. His IQ was estimated to be 50 to 100 points higher than Albert Einstein's. He could read the New York Times before he was 2.
Several studies corroborate the fact that our ancestors were far stronger than us, and that human strength and fitness has decreased so dramatically in recent years that even the fittest among us wouldn't be able to keep up with the laziest of our ancestors.
In 1898, the smartest man who ever lived was born in America. His name was William James Sidis and his IQ was eventually estimated to be between 250 and 300 (with 100 being the norm).
Researchers also have found a peculiar pattern in non-Africans: People in China, Japan and other East Asian countries have about 20 percent more Neanderthal DNA than do Europeans.
Could we mate with other animals today? Probably not. Ethical considerations preclude definitive research on the subject, but it's safe to say that human DNA has become so different from that of other animals that interbreeding would likely be impossible.
The percentage of Neanderthal DNA in modern humans is zero or close to zero in people from African populations, and is about 1 to 2 percent in people of European or Asian background.
In other words, Neanderthals were genetically programmed for bulkier, more powerful muscles that made them suited for short bursts of activity, while modern human muscles were designed for endurance. The Neanderthal physique also seems to be well-suited to striding up and down the hilly European landscape.
It's striking and paradoxical that half of all the Neanderthal genes in our genome play a role in determining skin and hair colour. Yet this new research shows us that Neanderthal genes have no more influence over these features than the unique human genes we carry for them.
We once lived alongside Neanderthals, but interbreeding, climate change, or violent clashes with rival Homo sapiens led to their demise.
Anecdotally, smarter people do seem to live longer. Isaac Newton died in 1727 aged 84, the philosopher-mathematician Bertrand Russell lived to 97, while Nobel Prize-winning neurobiologist Rita Levi-Montalcini died in 2012 aged 103.
Strictly speaking, humans are the smartest animals on Earth—at least according to human standards.
Not only do humans have evolved brains that process and produce language and syntax, but we also can make a range of sounds and tones that we use to form hundreds of thousands of words. To make these sounds -- and talk -- humans use the same basic apparatus that chimps have: lungs, throat, voice box, tongue and lips.