Question 1: First Place

 

Excerpt from Josephine Benson's winning essay

 

Hairy men in fur. Grunts instead of language. A dead branch of the family tree. These images may come to mind when we think about Neanderthals. Contributing to Neanderthal stereotypes, popular ads proclaim “So easy a caveman can do it,” implying our ancestral cousins lacked intelligence. Neanderthals need an image makeover. Using DNA analysis, scientists are illuminating our evolutionary history. Recent findings shed light on Neanderthals and ourselves, our past and our future. Last year researchers announced some modern humans share Neanderthal DNA, implying Neanderthals live on in our genes. Neanderthal DNA makes up 1-4% of our genome, but even this is more than originally thought. Dr. Svante Pääbo’s research team reconstructed the Neanderthal genome from skeletal remains and compared it to five modern people of varying ancestry, including Chinese, Papua New Guinean, South African, West African, and French. Results were significant to say the least. All except the Africans shared Neanderthal DNA (Green, 2010). ... The conventional story is that modern man and Neanderthals split from a common ancestor about 400,000 years ago in Africa, with Neanderthals moving north to dwell in Europe until they became extinct about 30,000 years ago (Inman, 2009). Dr. Pääbo’s findings challenge this view, suggesting that Cro-Magnon and Neanderthals interbred about 45,000 years ago in the Middle East (Green, 2010). The interbreeding is significant because two theories exist concerning Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals. One, the “replacement” or “out of Africa” theory, suggests Cro-Magnons gained an evolutionary foothold in Africa, then migrated north and replaced Neanderthals due to superior genetics and the process of positive selection (Mayell, 2003)... The second, or “multi-regional” theory, posits Cro-Magnons co-existed with Neanderthals. Pääbo’s findings support this second theory...