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Symposium Explores Neandertal Question, Mystery Of Human Origins

Who are we and how did we get here? It is one of the biggest questions humanity knows, and the driving force behind paleoanthropology, the study of human origins.

Paleoanthropologists, however, sometimes prefer to turn the question around and ask instead, Who are we not? Who did we replace? How were they different from us? Recent research on Neandertals, who were either our closest cousins or one of our most recent ancestors, perhaps provides some of the most revealing answers to the question of what exactly Homo sapiens is or is not.

"Being Neandertal: The Life and Times of Our Closest Relatives," a public symposium being offered by Arizona State University's Institute of Human Origins (IHO) on Oct. 3 at ASU's Neeb Hall, presents a day-long exploration of the most recent research on Neandertals, with an international group of authorities speaking on topics ranging from Neandertal skeletal structure, behavior and ancestry to studies of paleoecology, and recent efforts to extract and analyze Neandertal DNA from fossils.

Recognized as a group of fossils with similar traits from Europe and the Middle East, ranging in age from 300,000 to 30,000 years old, Neandertals have been the focus of scientific and popular interest for over 140 years. At the center of the debate is the still-not-fully-resolved issue of whether Neandertals represent a distinct, competing species that co-existed with Homo sapiens for more than 70,000 years before going extinct, or whether the Neandertals were merely an extreme variation of the human species that eventually disappeared into our ancestral gene pool.

Both sides of the debate are represented at the symposium. Of particularly high profile is a thesis currently being argued by Spanish anthropologist Juan Luis Arsuaga that Neandertals (Homo neanderthalensis) first evolved as a separate species on the European continent, while Homo sapiens evolved 200,000 years later in Africa, later spreading into Neandertal territory
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Contact: James Hathaway
hathaway@asu.edu
(602) 965-6375
Arizona State University
16-Sep-1998


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