Maybe We`ve Got This Whole Neanderthal Thing Backwards
February 10, 2012, 01:47 AM
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Neanderthals are popularly associated with brutishness, so it was interesting when anthropologist John Hawks wondered what current population apparently has the most Neanderthal ancestry. 

Try to guess. Answer after the break.

The Tuscans have the highest level of Neandertal similarity of any of the 1000 Genomes Project samples.

 

Tuscans are the people of Tuscany: e.g., Florence, Siena, Pisa, the home of the Renaissance. Famous Tuscans include Dante, Brunelleschi, Puccini, and three of the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Donatello, Leonardo, and Michelangelo. 

Before they were Tuscans, they were Etruscans, rivals of Rome. Like the Tuscans, the Etruscans had a sophisticated and pleasant artistic tradition. Estrucan legends said they came to Italy from what's now Turkey. Scholars of course assumed that was just myth, like they do with everything cool (Troy never existed, it's just a metaphor for trade disputes). But recent genetic studies have supported the old stories.

The difference in Neanderthal similarity between say Tuscans and Finns is tiny and some other groups not sampled may eventually turn out to have higher amounts of Neanderthal background.