The idea has been kicking around for a number of years that modern humans may have picked up some valuable genes by mating with Neanderthals (kind of like Clan of the Cave Bear
, that really odd series of romance novels set in caveman days that were huge bestsellers a generation ago).
A new study supports that theory. John Hawks
has the background.
The idea is that if Neanderthals were off evolving by themselves in the frigid North for a few hundred thousand years, they likely would have developed some well-honed genes for dealing with the difficulties of life outside the tropics. The fastest way for modern humans migrating out of the tropics to acquire traits optimized for surviving winters, or whatever, would have been to interbreed with Neanderthals.