My Queer Neanderthal Cousin Claude
By Monte Fisher
Look, I’m not a paleo-geneticist or even a regular geneticist. But current paleo-genetic research on Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthals) should concern every Homo sapien (Human).
The bombshell disclosure that Neanderthals and Humans are completely separate and distinct species from each other blows up all cultural assumptions of who we are.
Since they were discovered in 1856, in the Neander Valley of Germany, our physical and cultural image of Neanderthals has become radically “humanized.”
The astonishing announcement in 2010, that current European and Asian Humans carry up to 4 per cent Neanderthal DNA, proves that inbreeding between the two species, Humans and Neanderthals, occurred in the not so distant past.
Imagine you’re living 50,000 years ago, near present day Malaga, Spain, a seaside fishing village on the sunny Mediterranean. No internet, no cellphones, no electricity. No cars, no roads. Simply aboriginal nature in a benevolent setting on a beautiful coastline. Your home is comfortable, the climate is nurturing, and the sea provides most of what you need.
You’re a young adult Human male.One day you’re out gathering food for yourself and your family and right there, in your favorite berry-picking bog, you run into an interesting new neighbor about your age. He looks sort of like a Human, sort of like a Neanderthal, and sort of like a hybrid offspring of a Human and Neanderthal.
Your life’s about to change.
The discovery of Neanderthals as a separate ancient species challenges our beliefs about the origins of Humans. The Neanderthals’ short limbs and simian eye-brow ridge provoke an ape-like ancestor that doesn’t jibe with cultural or religious descriptions of God’s creation.
A major misperception about Neanderthals comes from a 1908 finding in France, of a Neanderthal skeleton that had been disabled by arthritis. The skeleton was widely misunderstood as representative of the species, and Neanderthals were inaccurately stereotyped as short individuals of limited intelligence, “cavemen,” with bent knees who walked like chimpanzees.
OUR ANCESTORS WERE CAVEMEN?
There is widespread belief that Neanderthals were our human ancestors, or that we evolved from them. But we didn’t. Humans and Neanderthals diverged from a common ancestor about 500,000 years ago. Humans evolved in Africa while Neanderthals evolved in Europe and the Middle East.
Humans have been around for 200,000 years but Neanderthals had existed for twice as long.
When Neanderthals became extinct 40,000 years ago, they had been on Earth longer than humans have been now. And although Neanderthals were hunter-gatherers, and Humans were farmers, the two species interacted with each other for thousands of years.
Claude’s blue-green eyes, red hair, and muscly body are seductive. You’ve never met anyone like him. He shows you where exotic berries grow and shares his stash with you. You never tasted berries so sweet.
As you work side by side, you notice Claude’s wearing a white shell necklace, an artifact you’ve never seen. He invites you to examine it closely. You feel a certain heat radiating from him.
The shells are pierced for the string that binds them. You linger a little longer, feeling the jewelry, the back of your hand lightly touching his chest. The moment passes and you both resume food gathering as the temperate sun glides smoothly across the azure sky.
WE HAD SEX WITH NEANDERTHALS?
Humans began migrating from Africa to the Middle East and Europe about 30,000 years ago. They encountered Neanderthals, who had diverged as a separate species hundreds of thousands of years earlier.
Humans and Neanderthals got to know each other so well that they produced offspring with genes from both lineages. The biological remnants of those liaisons remain in the genomes of Europeans and East Asian peoples of today.
Current genetic studies explore how Neanderthal DNA influenced the composition of modern Humans. When the two groups interbred, some new traits remained in the human genome and some old traits disappeared. However, genetic research reveals even more subtle relationships between Humans and Neanderthals.
Neanderthal DNA, spanning at least 20% of their ancient genome, survives in modern humans of non-African ancestry. If you are European or Asian, around one- to four-per cent of your genome originated from Neanderthals.
Not only were Neanderthals different than the repugnant “cavemen,” they might have actually been movie star sexy. Well, at least attractive enough for Humans to have sex with them. Repeatedly, intentionally, perhaps even ecstatically, for generations.
Recently sequenced Neanderthal genomes reveal that Humans mated with Neanderthals over thousands of years. These couplings were sporadic but lasting. Just about every Human today, except those of solely African ancestry, have Neanderthal genes in every cell of their body.
The work day wanes and Claude invites you back to his modest dwelling. You join him in a comfortable hillside abode, an interesting dugout retreat under an overcropping granite cliff. Claude’s home is positioned above the valley and is well protected from intruders. There’s a welcoming fire in a rock-lined pit, a flattened log table, and a sleeping area with comfortable woven mats. Surprisingly, just above your head on the smooth stone ceiling, you notice a cave painting of two men hunting.
Claud offers you a wood cup of fermented fruit wine, and gestures for you to relax and enjoy the view of the village far below. You can just make out your family’s hut among the other villagers’ homes. The scene looks like a diorama of another world.
GENDER FLUID NEANDERTHALS?
Paleo-genetic-cultural anthropologists have established that Humans and Neanderthals had sex. But they’re exploring an even more complex question: Could a Human and Neanderthal fall in love?
Anthropologists discovered the 5,000 year old remains of what may be the world’s oldest known gay caveman during a 2011 study held in the Czech Republic. The male body, dated between 2900–2500 BC, was found in a Prague suburb with its head pointing eastwards and surrounded by domestic jugs.
Archeologists observed that people from this period took funeral rites very seriously, so it was highly unlikely that the positioning of this body was accidental. They concluded it was far more likely the body was a man of different sexual orientation, a homosexual or transsexual.
Claude prepares a meal of flame-roasted catch-of-the-day, paired with a butternut squash bisque, followed by a seasonal fruit medley. You enjoy the delicious meal next to the comfy fire, safely above the cares of the outside world. In a rare departure, suspended in time, you luxuriate in a relaxed atmosphere of domestic bliss.
WE HAD SEX WITH QUEER NEANDERTHALS?
What we know so far is that we had sex with Neanderthals. Our hybrid offspring continue to reflect Neanderthal DNA in modern humans. And archeological evidence strongly supports that same-sex relationships existed in our combined pasts.
What has yet to emerge, however, is in-depth research on the incidence of homosexuality and trans-sexuality in our most distant progenitors.
Based on paleo-geneticist anthropological research to date, it’s clear that at least three intersectional events occurred sometime in the past 50,000 years:
Humans and Neanderthals had sex with each other;
some of their offspring survived within the Humans species; and,
some percentage of those offspring are gay.
As a queer Human with Neanderthal DNA in my blood, I can only conclude that at least one of my distant ancestors was a queer Neanderthal.
I choose to call him my Queer Neanderthal Cousin Claude.
Maybe he and a Human glanced at each other across an Eden-like garden, met each other for brunch, and found themselves in an exotic same-sex rhapsody of romantic love that rocked their world.
New data paint a picture of just such queer behavior. Neanderthals wore jewelry; they took part in dramatic rituals; they wore cosmetics; they may have loved each other.
Our image of Neanderthals has evolved from a caricature of “cavemen” to a remarkably sophisticated species. We know they built tools, made jewelry, and buried their dead. They were stronger than us, just as smart, and desirable sexual partners.
Evidence of Neanderthal appearances and cultures continues to expand in research facilities around the world. For example, a display case in an Iraqi museum features the remains of a forty- to fifty-year-old Neanderthal man who died around 45,000 years ago. He’s laid out in a glass sarcophagus next to a rendition of how he looked alive; five foot five, brown hair, ruddy skin, and an attractive beard.
AND WE FELL IN LOVE?
New research is finding more commonalities between Humans and Neanderthals that go even deeper into our shared psyches.
Exploring possible emotional similarities between the two species, in 2017, researchers hypothesized that Humans and Neanderthals could fall in love. The emotion of love clearly exists in primates like chimpanzees, Bonobos, and gorillas. Given our common ancestors’ experience of love, current research concludes that Neanderthals also experienced love.
After dinner, Claude approaches you more closely, looks deeply into you with those mesmerizing emerald eyes, and gently brushes a bit of food from your cheek. Without looking away, he slowly removes his shell necklace, places it over your head, and lets it fall lightly around your neck.
Claude steps back to view your new look. You feel the delicate weight of the necklace on your chest, like an invitation to become who you really are. You both smile shyly.
Later, you settle down next to him, reclining on a bed near the dwindling fire. He rests his arm around you as you watch the sun set over the dazzling Mediterranean, and you drift into a sleep that marks a new way of being in the world.