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Fred Smith

Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Illinois State University

Neandertals, Races, and the Assimilation Model of Modern Human Origins

Monday, September 20, 2010
Lecture Hall 2, 5:00 PM

Abstract

Neandertals are certainly biologically different from modern humans. That is readily apparent from the anatomy of their fossil remains and their genetic makeup. The vast majority of studies on practically all aspects of their biology that can be analyzed, from basic anatomy to pattern of ontogenetic development to both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA, have increasingly argued that Neandertals represent a different species from Homo sapiens and that Homo neanderthalensis did not contribute to the biological makeup of modern people, even the earliest ones to enter the Neandertal range of western Eurasia. The recent sequencing of the Neandertal genome, however, shows that even living humans show as much as a 4% contribution from Neandertals, and early modern populations likely exhibited a larger Neandertal contribution. However, the evidence of Neandertal contribution to early modern humans has been there all along in certain details of anatomy. We will take a look at this evidence, as well as some theoretical reasons why Neandertals are not likely to be a separate species from us. I will argue that Neandertals are actually an example of a true biological race (subspecies) of Homo sapiens and hold the key to understanding the misapplication of the biologically-based race concept to living humans.

Biography

Fred H. Smith is a human paleontologist who has studied Neandertals and their relationships to modern humans for almost 40 years.  He has conducted research on fossil human remains throughout Africa and western Eurasia but is best know for his work in Central Europe and for his development of the Assimilation Model of modern human origins.  Currently he is Professor of Anthropology and Biological Sciences and Chair of the the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Illinois State University, but he has also taught at Loyola University Chicago, Northern Illinois University, and at the Universities of Tennessee, Hamburg, Tübingen and Zagreb. Smith is the author of over 150 scholarly publications including his most recent co-authored book, The Human Lineage (Wiley Blackwell, 2009). A died-in-the-wool hillbilly and life-long Scouter, he is active in the Boy Scouts of America, the United Methodist Church, and as Science Director of the Midwest Museum of Natural History in his former hometown of Sycamore, Illinois.

Readings

Video:

Interview:

Podcast interview with Fred

Poster (PDF):