In a report in the journal Current Anthropology, Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis says he has found in his study of genetic markers that modern humans diverge far more than Neanderthals from their immediate ancestors.
"I wanted to see to what extent Neanderthals are derived, that is distinct, from the ancestral form. I also wanted to see the extent to which modern humans are derived relative to the ancestral form," Trinkaus said. "What I came up with is that modern humans have about twice as many uniquely derived traits than do the Neanderthals."
Neanderthals were identified in the 19th century from a skeleton found in the valley of the Neander River in Germany. They preceded modern humans in Europe and the Near East, and anthropologists have debated their relationship for decades.
Trinkaus points out that modern humans lack the prominent brow ridges Neanderthals share with our ancestors and the large nasal passages.