Ever since the discovery of the Neanderthal man, we have been wondering how this shorter and buffer version of humans ceased to exist.
The prevailing theory up until 2005 was that we – the Homo Sapiens human – caused the Neanderthal to die out. However, recently the new evidence has come to light that shows that the Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens interbred and the result is, well, us – modern 21st-century people.
With the first Neanderthal DNA being sequenced in 2013, we were able to see that almost everybody on the planet has a bit of Neanderthal DNA in them.
With the newly developed Neanderthal DNA tests, we can finally answer the question everybody has been asking:
How much of our DNA do we share with the Neanderthals?
In short, we have from 1% to 4% of the Neanderthal DNA in our double helix. What is more, the newly published paper in The Scientist (September 2019) notes that we get quite a few of our most distinctive features from the Neanderthal DNA. The two most obvious Neanderthal traits we (probably) inherited are:
- Color of our hair.
- Color of our eyes.
- Our skin color.
Obviously, the purpose of the DNA test is to determine exactly how much of the Neanderthal DNA you have – is it closer to the 1% or to the 4%?
What the Neanderthal DNA test cannot answer with 100% certainty (as of yet) is if you have red hair because you have inherited the gene for red hair from the Neanderthals.
It’s quite a story behind the Neanderthal DNA. We will answer the following questions:
- How did we get the Neanderthal DNA?
- Which ethnic group has the most Neanderthal DNA (and why people of African origin have 0% of Neanderthal DNA)?
- How to check how much Neanderthal DNA do you have and what does that say about you?
- Which are the best Neanderthal DNA tests?
Table of Contents
How Did We Get Neanderthal DNA?
According to the National Geographic article, modern humans and the Neanderthals share a common ancestor – called Homo Heidelbergensis – who lives in Africa about 500,000 years ago.
About 300,000 years ago a group of Homo Heidelbergensis moved across the Middle East to modern-day Europe and Asian. The group that we know as the Neanderthals went toward Europe, while the group that went forth to Asia is known as the Denisovans.
For about 240,000 years, the Neanderthals roamed the forests of Europe and thrived. In theory, their DNA gradually changed to better equip them for survival in colder Europe. Supposedly, the color of their skin, hair, and eyes changed, and, even more importantly, their immune system developed by becoming accustomed to the European bacteria and viruses.
However, some 60,000 years ago another group has emerged from the African continent. These were modern humans. About 30,000 years ago the Neanderthals become extinct, or at least so the prevailing theory states.
The new studies that are coming to light suggest that the modern human inbred with the Neanderthals and the two species merged. As a result, most of us have about 2% of the Neanderthal DNA in our double helix.
From the Neanderthals, the early humans have gained one very important gift: the Neanderthal immune system that was equipped for fighting the European pathogens.
Which ethnic group has the most Neanderthal DNA
There is one group of people that has 0% of the Neanderthal DNA. These are the Sub-Saharan indigenous Africans who have not come into contact with the Neanderthals or descendants of people who inbred with the Neanderthals.
Everybody else has between 1% and 4% of Neanderthal DNA. So which ethnic groups have the most Neanderthal DNA?
This map of where the Neanderthals settled in Europe is very helpful:
As you can see from the map above, the Neanderthals settled in modern-day Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, southern Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, and even Hungary and Croatia.
Ethnic Italians, for example, especially those that can track their origins to Northern Italy have more an above-average percentage of Neanderthal DNA.
People from Scandinavia, on the other hand, don’t share as much DNA with Neanderthals as do the people from Southern Europe. The reason is pretty obvious; the Neanderthals didn’t live in Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Nonetheless, they do have some Neanderthal DNA because they are the offsprings of Homo Sapiens who came out of Africa and interbred with Neanderthals.
In general, white and Asian people have a significantly higher percentage of Neanderthal DNA than the African population.
How To Check How Much Neanderthal DNA Do You Have?
Well, obviously, we cannot deduct the percentage of DNA we have with the Neanderthals using genealogy.
What we do have are the newly developed Neanderthal DNA tests. We are only able to see how much of your DNA matches the DNA of a Neanderthal because we sequenced the whole Neanderthal DNA back in 2013.
Based on this Neanderthal sequencing analysis, we can compare your DNA with that of a Neanderthal and determine if you have 1%, 2% or even 4% of Neanderthal DNA.
We will go through the commercially available Neanderthal DNA test is just a moment but first, it is important to clarify what does this or that percentage of DNA shared with Neanderthal DNA means.
In short, it doesn’t mean all that much. Some people do find a correlation between their physical traits – like red hair color, big nose or elongated skull – to the high percentage of their DNA being of Neanderthal origin.
Best Neanderthal DNA Tests
The Neanderthal test is a bit specific. You need an in-depth knowledge of the Neanderthal DNA and it’s comparison with human DNA to give accurate results.
The big DNA testing companies – like Ancestry.com and 23andme – struggled to come up with a good test. However, there is one big name that went in pursuit of creating the best Neanderthal DNA test.
That is National Geographic. National Geographic is the world leader in geography, cartography, and exploration with its own TV channel and newspaper.
They had both the resources and expertise to develop a Neanderthal DNA test and fortunately, they have created the best one with incredible accuracy when it comes to determining how much of DNA any individual shares with the Neanderthal.
Let’s look at how National Geographic Geno 2.0 Neanderthal DNA test looks like. We’ll also cover the 23andme Neanderthal test but if you’re looking for Ancestry Neanderthal DNA test, I have some bad news.
Ancestry doesn’t have a DNA Neanderthal test.
National Geographic Geno 2.0 Neanderthal DNA Test
In order to create the best DNA test that determines how much DNA you share with Neanderthals, the National Geographic has teamed up with the Helix DNA testing company.
This is the only test that can track your origins back full 200,000 years. Which is in itself amazing.
Thus far more than 1,000,000 people from almost every country in the world have taken the test to figure out how much Neanderthal DNA they have in their genome.
The most prominent and famous that took the Geno 2.0. test include Bono and Stephen Colbert, who are both of European descent, and Yo-Yo Ma, who is of Asian descent.
Geno 2.0 is the most comprehensive Neanderthal DNA test we have.
If you want to know if you share 1% or 4% (or anything in between) of DNA with Neanderthals, you can simply order your test from the official National Geographic store.
What is the added value of the National Geographic DNA test is that they use their geographical and cartographical knowledge to build the most comprehensive origin maps.
You get the overall Neanderthal DNA percentage results as well as a map of where your ancestors came from.
If you are of European descent, for example, you can figure out if your Neanderthal DNA originates from South German or North Italy, or from Portugal, France as so on.
23andme Neanderthal DNA Test
23andme offers the Neanderthal Ancestry test as a part of their DNA Ancestry test. You can check it out here.
They even go so far as to estimate if your height and the amount of back hair can be traced back to Neanderthal ancestry. What is more, 23andme also points out that if you sneeze after eating dark chocolate, you probably share an above-average amount of DNA with the Neanderthals.
Nonetheless, the Neanderthal DNA test by 23andme is more of an addon to their Ancestry DNA and not the main focus of their test.
The only test solemnly dedicated to finding your Neanderthal root, for now, is the Geno 2.0 by National Geographic.