Close correspondence between quantitative- and molecular-genetic divergence times for Neandertals and modern humans

Timothy D. Weaver, Charles C. Roseman, Chris B. Stringer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent research has shown that genetic drift may have produced many cranial differences between Neandertals and modern humans. If this is the case, then it should be possible to estimate population genetic parameters from Neandertal and modern human cranial measurements in a manner analogous to how estimates are made from DNA sequences. Building on previous work in evolutionary quantitative genetics and on microsatellites, we present a divergence time estimator for neutrally evolving morphological measurements. We then apply this estimator to 37 standard cranial measurements collected on 2,524 modern humans from 30 globally distributed populations and 20 Neandertal specimens. We calculate that the lineages leading to Neandertals and modern humans split ≈311,000 (95% C.I.: 182,000 to 466,000) or 435,000 (95% C.I.: 308,000 to 592,000) years ago, depending on assumptions about changes in within-population variation. These dates are quite similar to those recently derived from ancient Neandertal and extant human DNA sequences. Close correspondence between cranial and DNA-sequence results implies that both datasets largely, although not necessarily exclusively, reflect neutral divergence, causing them to track population history or phylogeny rather than the action of diversifying natural selection. The cranial dataset covers only aspects of cranial anatomy that can be readily quantified with standard osteometric tools, so future research will be needed to determine whether these results are representative. Nonetheless, for the measurements we consider here, we find no conflict between molecules and morphology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4645-4649
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number12
StatePublished - Mar 25 2008


  • Craniometrics
  • Evolutionary quantitative genetics
  • Human evolution
  • Microsatellites
  • Population genetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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