Map showing the spread and evolution of Denisovans. Credit: John D. Croft via Wikimedia Commons.
Map showing the spread and evolution of Denisovans. Credit: John D. Croft via Wikimedia Commons.

Humanoid Hybrids, with Natalia Reagan

Map showing the spread and evolution of Denisovans. Credit: John D. Croft at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

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About This Episode

On this episode of StarTalk All-Stars, primatologist and host Natalia Reagan investigates a new discovery in the realm of ancient DNA. In-studio, Natalia is joined by first-time comic co-host Andrea Jones-Rooy and returning guests paleoanthropologist Shara Bailey and biological anthropologist Ryan Raaum. We explore the recent discovery of ancient DNA in Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains in Russia that turned out to be a hybrid DNA of Neanderthal and Denisovan. To start, we get some background on Neanderthals and Denisovans. You’ll learn more about how the discoverers of this find were able to extract large amounts of information from tiny fragment samples. You’ll find out about “hybrid vigor.” We discuss the medical implications of Neanderthal admixture, or “Neanderthal Nookie” as Natalia likes to call it. You’ll also learn how Neanderthals were able to adapt to warm and cold climates and why a rapidly changing climate lead to their ultimate extinction. Explore the “lumper” or “splitter” debate amongst the speciation classifications with Neanderthals, after which Ryan explains why he thinks the debate is boring. However, Shara tells us why the debate was so important in past conversations about the history of modern humans. Natalia also floats the idea that speciation might be a spectrum. You’ll discover some of the oddities about Neanderthal admixture, and some of the physical consequences of hybridization. Get details on the Rising Star Expedition which was responsible for the discovery of Homo naledi. You’ll hear a demonstration of what a Neanderthals’ voice might have sounded like. Andrea ponders preparing her death so that she can be turned into a fossil. You’ll also hear why over the last 3,000 to 4,000 years the population landscape of Africa rewrote itself, making it harder to uncover things from further back in history. All that, plus, Natalia coaches us on how to take proper hair samples. As Ryan says, “There’s probably something weird going on in this area.” (Warning: Adult Language).

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can watch or listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Humanoid Hybrids, with Natalia Reagan.

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