Say hello to the Neanderthal in you. People of non-African ancestry, Europeans and especially Asians, have Neanderthal genes in their DNA, which means about 4% of your genome may be from your archaic cousins.
Neanderthals are our extinct hominid relatives known to have existed throughout the Eurasian continent for roughly the 200,000 years. They are believed to have died out about 60,000 years ago. The picture of our ancient brothers and sisters is not clear for one simple reason – interbreeding between both human species. The conventional view is that modern humans drove their archaic kin to extinction through conflict, competition, disease and interbreeding – our numbers were high enough to swamp the Neanderthal gene pool.
But Homo Neanderthalensis still lives on – in our genes. Their genes improved our immune system and allowed people in higher climates to better synthesize vitamin D. We may have also inherited the FOXP2 gene from them, and hence our ability to speak.
Every so often Neanderthals throw up more surprises. Until recently it was believed that the gene flow was from Neanderthal to humans. This is not the situation now. DNA extracted from a Neanderthal skeleton discovered in Altai, Siberia has 5% human DNA, which interestingly deals with speech and brain function. Human DNA has also been found in a Neanderthal skeleton found in Hohlenstein-Stadel, Germany.
The prevailing view is that modern humans originated in Africa. Around 60,000 years they migrated to the middle East and from there on spread across the globe, along the way interbreeding with archaic humans like Neanderthals and Denisovians. This out-of-Africa theory is under threat from supporters of multi-regional theory, which states humans arose from different Homo erectus sub-species in Africa, Europe and Asia.
It is quite possible your ancestors were Neanderthals hundreds of generations removed before you could read this article on the device of your choice.