A Neanderthal Eve?

For the last couple of decades the human evolution debate has been dominated by the “Out of Africa” theory, which holds that Homo sapiens evolved in Africa around 200,000 years ago, then began spreading to other continents at around 60,000 to 70,000 years ago.  This theory has developed from analysis of human DNA, i.e., from the study of our genetic makeup.   

The Out of Africa theory has been opposed by another called “multiregionalism,” which proposes that the much older ancestor of Homo sapiens, Homo erectus, as well as subsequent evolutionary developments such as Homo neanderthalensis, were all the same species, but had evolved gradually over about 2 million years and all over the world — albeit with some regional adaptations/differences — into Homo sapiens.  Rather than DNA, multiregionalists have relied upon fossil evidence, noting especially regional similarities between bones of erectus and later sapiens.  

Though multiregionalism still has its adherents — and the debate has often been filled with acrimony from both sides — the Out of Africa theory for the origins of modern humans has emerged as the dominant paradigm.  Thus, it has generally come to be believed that we all — regardless of ancestry, whether European, Asian, African, etc. — can trace our roots to an “African Eve” of comparatively recent origin.

One caveat in the debate which remained unresolved was whether or not Homo sapiens might have bred with Homo neanderthalensis, with whom they overlapped and had contact between about 100,000 and 30,000 years ago, when the last of the Neanderthals disappeared.  For, if modern humans and Neanderthals bred together — i.e., there was “gene flow” — then there is at least some basis for the multiregionalist position for gradual evolution as well as also the possibility of regional genetic differences in populations of modern Homo sapiens.

And evidence of gene flow is precisely what an extremely important study of Neanderthal DNA appearing in the current issue of the journal Science has found.  

To very briefly summarize, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, using DNA samples from the bones of three Neanderthals found in Croatia, have recently succeeded in mapping a good bit of the Neanderthal genome (around 60%).  And when they compared Neanderthal DNA to that of a small group of modern humans with different ethnic backgrounds, they found a genetic contribution of Neanderthals to non-Africans (specifically Europeans, Asians and New Guineans) of 1-4%.

As you might expect this is a very controversial finding, because, as a New York Times report on the findings put it, it “would mean that non-Africans drew from a second gene pool not available to Africans.”   Though the Leipzig study does not exactly refute the Out of Africa theory, some modifications will at the very least be in order — as long as the findings hold up.

And for a person of European ancestry like myself, I suppose I’ll just have to get used to a “Neanderthal Eve” in my distant past, in addition to my African one.  Well, I’ve always kind of liked Neanderthals anyway.  So, that’s OK by me. 

If you’re interested in reading more on human origins, check out some titles from Greensboro Public Library listed in this previous post.


Registering to Vote When You Vote Early!

Did you forget to register to vote by April 9 for the May 4 primary?  Don’t despair!  If you vote early, you can still register to vote at the same time.  Early voting begins on April 15.  Days, locations, and times can be found on the Early Voting Schedule and Locations link on the Guilford County Board of Elections website.  To register to vote when you vote early, you must have with you an acceptable form of identification showing your current name and address.  A list of acceptable forms of identification can be found at the Registering to Vote During Early Voting link on the Guilford County Board of Elections website.   Please register and take advantage of this further opportunity to let your voice be heard!

Registering to Vote in the May 4 Primary

The last day to register to vote in the May 4 primary is Friday, April 9.   You can deliver a completed voter registration form to the Guilford County Board of Elections Greensboro or High Point offices by 5 p.m. on that date.  Also, you can mail in a completed form to the Guilford County Board of Elections with a postmark prior to midnight on that date.  The addresses for the Board of Elections offices are:

Guilford County Board of Elections – Greensboro office

301 West Market Street – Room 115

Guilford County Board of Elections – High Point office

505 East Green Drive – Room 103

The address to which you mail completed forms is:

Guilford County Board of Elections

P. O. Box 3427

Greensboro, NC 27402

Voter registration forms can be picked up at any Greensboro Public Library location.  They can also be printed out from the Guilford County Board of Elections website.  Make sure you’re registered to vote so that your voice will be heard!

Nature Photography Contest at the Library

We’ve had lots of winter weather recently, and Spring may not seem close at hand, but here at the Kathleen Clay Branch we’ve already made plans for our annual Earth Day Celebration on April 10th. As part of the celebration we feature a Nature Photography Contest, and this year we’re opening it up to all grades, Kindergarten through 12th. The only requirement for the photographs is that they should depict nature in Guilford County.

The deadline for submissions is March 17th, and you must deliver your photo to the Kathleen Clay Branch between 6 pm and 9 pm. To enter the contest, put a 4×6 photo in a sealed envelope along with an index card including the student’s name, address, telephone number, school, and grade level.  Also include a title for the photo, and the location in Guilford County where you shot it. Deliver your photograph early, because only the first hundred photos in each category (Elementary, Middle, and High School) will be accepted! (For more information about Earth Day and detailed rules for the contest, see the library website.)

When our Earth Day celebration rolls around on April 10th, we will put all the photos on display, and the contest winners will be those who receive the most votes. So come by between 1 pm and 4 pm to vote for your favorite, and encourage your friends to come as well! There will be prizes for the first and second place winners in each age category.

If you’re looking for inspiration or help with your technique, check out some of these books that we have at the library: National Audubon Society Guide to Nature Photography, The Magic of Digital Nature Photography by Rob Sheppard; Galen Rowell : a retrospective  compiled by the Sierra Club, Hugh Morton, North Carolina Photographer, Carolina Nature : a Photographer’s View of the Natural World in the Carolinas by Eric Horan,  John Shaw’s Nature Photography Field Guide, and Essential Skills for Nature Photography by Cub Kahn.

Early Voting for the Greensboro City Council Primary

You can now vote early for the Greensboro City Council Primary of October 6, 2009.  The early voting location in Greensboro is the Guilford County Board of Elections Absentee Office, which is Room 100 of the old Guilford County Courthouse at 301 West Market Street.  The early voting location in High Point is Room 103 of the Guilford County Board of Elections office at 505 East Green Drive.  The early voting days and times are: 1) Thursday and Friday, September 17 and 18, from 8-5; 2) Monday-Friday, September 21-25, 8-5; 3) Monday-Friday, September 28-October 2, 8-5; and 4)( GREENSBORO LOCATION ONLY) Saturday, October 3, 10-1.

If you vote early during any of the periods above, you can register to vote and vote at the same time.  To do this, you will need to fill out a voter registration form and show identification with your current name and Guilford County address from one of the accepted forms of identification shown at the link Registering to Vote During Early Voting found on the Guilford County Board of Elections website.

If you’re not going to be able to vote on Election Day but can make it to one of these locations during these times, please consider voting early.  Remember that every vote counts!

The Health Care Debate

The intense emotion of the current debate shows how important health care is to all of us.  Here are some resources which you may find helpful on the subject.  You can see the main elements of the most likely House bill with Democratic House member support at THOMAS, a website covering Congressional legislation maintained by the U. S. Library of Congress.  Once there, just click on America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009.    President Obama’s ideas and related material may be found on the White House website. One of the many agencies supporting White House and Democratic Party proposals is the Brookings Institution, and you can see their views at their health care link.

The Heritage Foundation, one of the many organizations opposing these views and suggesting others, presents its ideas at the website FixHealthCarePolicy.

The library has several recent books on the debate.  Health Care  presents varying views on reform proposals and is part of the Opposing Viewpoints series.  Critical: What We Can Do about the Health Care Crisis is by former Senator Tom Daschle, and discusses views similar to President Obama’s proposals.  Healthy Competition: What’s Holding Back Health Care and How to Free it is written by Michael Cannon and Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute and presents another point of view.

These and other resources can be found through the Greensboro Public Library’s Central Library and five (six again in January, 2010) branches along with the library website.  The debate is far from over, so stay informed about the process and find out as much as you can about the issue so that your voice can be heard more effectively.

Brett Favre, a Minnesota Viking — Finally!

Well, ever since former standout Green Bay Packer quarterback Brett Favre “retired,” there has been talk about him joining his arch-rival.  It’s been an on again, off again courtship, to say the least.  But last week Favre finally became a Minnesota Viking.

I must admit, I’m skeptical that Favre has still got it and can help turn the Vikings around.  For me rather, the whole Favre thing just brings back a lot of Vikings memories.

I guess in North Carolina most people these days follow the Panthers, but back when I was growing up here in the 1970s we Tar Heels didn’t have a pro team to cheer for — at least we didn’t have one in our backyard anyway.  So, for whatever reason, I became a Vikings fan. 

Maybe it was their purple uniforms, the reputation of the “Purple People-eaters” for defensive toughness, or maybe it was the fact that they simply had one of the best teams in the NFL when I was a kid, I don’t know — but I was a Vikings fan then and still am.

Of course, the thing about being a Vikings fan back in the ’70s was that you had to get used to the emotional rollercoaster of great victories but no Super Bowl rings — ’cause the Viks just couldn’t quite get the job done.  (And the last few decades they just haven’t been able to do the job at all.  Sometimes I think they lost their mojo when they went to that domed stadium in 1982!)       

The first year I followed the NFL and pulled for the Viks was 1969-70.  Their quarterback was an awesome, tough guy type named Joe Kapp, and he had a stellar season that year.  There were some incredible moments:  a great come-from-behind victory over the Rams in the playoffs and an amazing win over Detroit in the snow on Thanksgiving Day.  Kapp ultimately led Minnesota to Super Bowl IV, where they were heavily favored but suffered a disappointing loss to Kansas City, 23-7.    

Then quarterback Fran Tarkenton returned to the Vikings (in ’72 I think), and after he settled in they had a run of really good seasons, though of course they were never able to win a Super Bowl, losing the big one three times to the Dolphins (’74), Steelers (’75) and Raiders (’77).  And who could forget the great team that lost to Dallas with that “Hail Mary” pass in the first round of the playoffs in 1975?     

Returning to the here and now, I think the thing Brett Favre represents to old Vikings fans like me — and maybe young ones too — is another shot at a Super Bowl ring.  Just as we looked to quarterbacks such as Kapp and Tarkenton to make the difference 35-40 years ago, today we look to Favre.

But it’s a long shot, I know, especially with Favre now 39 years old.  And it comes as a real shock for me to realize that he was born (October 1969) during the season Kapp and the Viks had their great run!

Anyway, if the Favre story has peaked your interest in him, you may want to check out Brett Favre:  The Tribute by Sports Illustrated or Favre:  the Man, the Legend, edited by Joe Funk. 

Greensboro Public Library’s holdings also include plenty of recent books on pro football generally, including:  The Paolantonio Report:  The Most Overrated and Underrated Players, Teams, Coaches, and Moments in NFL History by Sal Paolantonio with Rueben Frank; That First Season:  How Vince Lombardi Took the Worst Team in the NFL and Set It On the Path to Glory by John Eisenberg (on order); War Without Death:  A Year of Extreme Competition in Pro Football’s NFC East by Mark Maske; Brand NFL:  Making and Selling America’s Favorite Sport by Michael Oriard; Pro Football’s Fifty Toughest Players by Neil Reynolds; Tailgating, Sacks, and Salary Caps:  How the NFL Became the Most Successful Sports League in Sports History by Mark Yost; The Long Snapper:  A Second Chance, a Super Bowl, a Lesson for Life by Jeffrey Marx; Uncommon:  Finding Your Path to Significance by Tony Dungy with Nathan Whitaker; The Score Takes Care of Itself:  My Philosophy of Leadership by Bill Walsh with Steve Jamison and Craig Walsh (on order); and The Glory Game:  How the 1958 NFL Championship Changed Football Forever by Frank Gifford with Peter Richmond.