Does the mysterious Bigfoot live among us? Those in search of him may have to look no further than their mirrors.

Discoveries of new archaic humans prove Homo sapiens shared the planet with our evolutionary cousins more recently than previously imagined. There were the Neadertals in Europe and the Denisovans of Asia; the tiny “Hobbit” of Flores lived alongside humans as recently as 18,000 years ago. This certainly is sufficient explanation for the origin of the wild man stories found in nearly every culture, but are there any more recent legends?

This is the thrust of an article by David Robson published earlier this year in New Scientist. He writes that most Bigfoot sightings have alternative explanations. Indeed, sighting hotspots have been mapped almost exactly to the home ranges of known large mammals like bears and buffalo. Nevertheless, it is possible to entertain the notion as a possibility in light of the recent existence of our evolutionary cousins.

Now new genetic evidence suggests truth may be stranger than fiction: Bigfoot may not be lurking in the woods but in our own DNA. Advances in genetic analysis and new fossil remains seem to suggest that Europeans and Melanesians share between one and five percent of their genomes with Neandertals and Denisovans, respectively.

Matthew Jobin is an anthropologist who has mapped human and Denisovan DNA, specifically looking at immune system genes. His statistical models support a scenario where human populations in Asia acquired certain genes by interbreeding with Denisovans. Combined with research on Neandertal genes, this suggests that some modern day humans are hybrids.

The Clan of the Cave Bear, written in 1980 by Jean M. Auel, fictionalized historical interactions with Neandertal and early Europeans. Previously consider more fiction than science, Jobin says the author may now be vindicated. The ways in which humans and archaic population would have interacted are open to speculation. Did we form peaceful alliances or did we take their women as spoils of war? The only thing the interbreeding hypothesis says for sure is that we got it on.

Jobin says this new evidence may lead us to “broaden the lines around what is human.” We have gotten used to thinking of the human species as one group, alone on this planet in our uniqueness, but we now know that has not always been the case. We know little about the cultures of archaic groups. Neandertals possessed a cruder tool culture than contemporary humans and their larynxes would have produced less sophisticated sounds, yet their average brain size exceeded that of modern humans. Even less is known of the Denisovans, who are physically represented by only a couple finger bones, a toe, and a tooth. Despite any cultural differences and their distinct genetic distance from humans, Jobin says, when our ancestors met these groups “we saw them as people.”

Sources:

Robson, David. “Are there any other hominins left?” New Scientist. 3/24/2012, Vol. 213 Issue 2857, p42-42, 2/3p

Phone interview with Dr. Matthew Jobin 10/19/12

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