The Neanderthal correlation

The Neanderthal correlation, by Jeff Hecht. This article is speculative fiction written by a journalist, not real science. But it is in the premier science journal Nature, in its “Futures” section. This is only about ideas that are part of the current Zeitgeist, but there are many hints pointing in this direction. It’s from 2008, but doesn’t seem to be contradicted so far.

The background: Neanderthals split off from humans in Africa about 700,000 years ago, and seem to have bred back into modern humans in Europe from about 50,000 to 30,000 years ago, before dying out about 30,000 years ago. Whilst separate from homo sapiens, they developed new genes, some of which got transferred to modern humans. About 1% to 4% of the genes of all modern humans, except those from Africa, are now thought to be of Neanderthal origin.


From the article, set as a fictional researcher Beth telling a manager what she has found:

“I found strong genetic correlations between Neanderthals and modern subpopulations,” she said. “A lot more than I had expected.” …

“There’s a gene cluster linked to advanced mathematics skills, information processing, logic, analytical intelligence, concentration skills, obsession–compulsion and Asperger’s syndrome. That cluster correlates very strongly.” …

“You said these were Neanderthal genes?”

“Yes, they were,” she said. “They weren’t in the modern human genome until Neanderthals interbred with Cro-Magnons between 25,000 and 30,000 years ago.”

“Advanced mathematical processing? Shouldn’t that have been missing from the Neanderthal genome?”

“No, I found that Neanderthals lacked genes linked to successful socialization and management skills. They could count perfectly well, but they couldn’t deal with groups. Socialization genes came from Sapiens”

“You’re trying to tell me …” I said, but my mental censor blocked the idea.

“That human mathematical intelligence came from Neanderthals? That’s what the data say. The Cro-Magnons had the social skills. But that isn’t all.”

Just speculation.