So I was merely doing my morning feed reading, and Afarensis’ post on some creationists playing paleoanthropology catches my eye. Reading just the headline, I thought to myself, “Boy… I wonder what these nutjobs, the very ones who think that dinosaurs and humans shared the Earth some um-thousand years ago, have to say about Neandertals and humans?”
“Neanderthals may have been virtually indistinguishable from modern humans in terms of both their appearance and intelligence. A lead author on the study declared that “we would understand both to be human. There’s good reason to think that they did as well.””
This is a big misunderstanding here. It seems like Casey Luskin either doesn’t understand taxonomy, or he’s manipulating the terms to his advantage… and I’ll explain why.
Both Neandertals and humans belong to the genus, Homo. That makes us both humans, just as Homo erectus is also classified as a human. Human in latin is Homo. So Homo erectus, is Upright Human and Homo habilis, is Handy Human… pretty simple? The genus Homo is identified by big brains compared to other primates. The only living genus of Homo, or living classification of humans, left to date is us, Homo sapiens. Sometimes it is confusing. What I am trying to clarify is that what human stands for now, in our public day to day talk, is us. What human means in science is every organism that is classified as Homo. Does that make Neandertals the exact same as us? No.
I don’t know of any paleoanthropologists that truly advocate neandertals and Homo sapiens humans were exactly the same. They are pretty different. This image of a Neandertal skull to the left and a Homo sapiens one to the right should convince you:
There is current focus on research that is is addressing whether Homo sapiens and Neandertals interbred and that’s supplemented by both anatomical/fossil comparisons and also genetic data. What they are doing is testing a hypothesis and debating what’s going on. That’s different from equating Homo sapiens and neandertals as the same, because species concepts aren’t set in stone.