The saga continues. (Are you feeling like science is forcing you to think about your grandma and grandad doing it yet?) It looks like ancient humans were getting busy with more related species than just neanderthals, according to a story up on New Scientist.
The evidence: A genetic study of modern humans that shows Indo-Pacific populations picked up a rather sudden windfall of genetic diversity about 40,000 years ago. Physical evidence—tools, bones, whathaveyou—points to neanderthals favoring more northerly latitudes, so the "donors" in this case are likely to be an entirely different species: Homo erectus, maybe, or the shorter (but less dirty-sounding) Homo floresiensis.
As some of you have pointed out, there's a bit of a "duh" feeling surrounding the whole, "OMG humans got it on with other human-y beings!" thing. The excitement coming from these announcements isn't so much because nobody ever thought of it before, but more because we hadn't previously had such direct evidence. As any episode of "Cheaters" can demonstrate, it's one thing to think some hanky-panky probably happened, and quite another to have the results of a paternity test in hand (relatively speaking).
Like you, I'm also pretty fascinated by the implications this has for speciation within the human family tree. The definition of species isn't a hard and bright line between closely related animals, and, while ability to have babies is a criteria, it's not the only one.
I want to know how these new discoveries are reshaping who we think of as fully human. I also want to know why we've had such a spate of related stories (stories of the same species?) in the past couple of months. Before I go asking around, though, I wanted to see what other questions y'all had. What do you want to know about neanderthal-human relations, ancient human species, and the research thereof? Leave a comment here. I can't promise all your questions will be answered, but I will use some of them.