Well, according to Ernst Mayr’s Biological Species Concept, which holds that species are “groups of actually or potentially interbreeding natural populations, which are reproductively isolated from other such groups,” the newest genetic data (see a previous post on this blog) suggest that perhaps they should be considered the same species. A nice summary of the debate is provided by Ann Gibbons in Science. While some paleoanthropologists (including our keynote speaker John Hawks, who is quoted in the piece; check out his blog post on the subject) consider Neandertals and modern humans to be the same species, others maintain that the two are distinct species because the anatomical, developmental, and behavioral differences between Neandertals and modern humans are much greater than what we see among any modern population.
Check out Gibbons’s piece and tell us what you think. Are we the same species or not (remember, it also depends on what species definition you decide to use)?
It is likely that Dr. Hawks will be addressing some of these issues in his keynote lecture (we now have a title for the talk: “Neandertime: Deciphering the Secrets of Ancient Genomes.”)
UPDATE 2.10.2011. Dr. Hawks has blogged about the applicability of the Biological Species Concept for extinct human groups.