Ennobling the Neanderthal: Racialized Texts and Genomic Admixture


  • James Doucet-Battle Temple University Press




I am interested in the ways that new discoveries and subsequent claims about Neanderthal genetic inheritance invert previous evolutionary narratives. Whereas Neanderthals were once viewed as a brutish and maladaptive discontinuity from the human story, today’s genomic research confirms that at least 5 percent of Neanderthal DNA survives in contemporary human populations. In fact, scientists are now asking whether any Neanderthal retentions might favor human populations. On the heels of this research, new findings from the Slim Initiative for Genomic Medicine in the Americas (SIGMA) seek to link Neanderthal retentions to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes (T2D). As human populations migrated out of and away from sub-Saharan Africa, they became more similar to one another as well as to their “sister” Neanderthal and Denisovan ancestors. Because of the decrease in genetic mutations arising from the resultant loss of heterozygosity, these relatively more homogeneous groups of “archaic humans” became less related to sub-Saharan Africans. My concern centers on how the absence of Neanderthal ancestry in sub-Saharan populations and the claims of the SIGMA group offer new narrative texts for reading racial difference and T2D risk in Indigenous, Black, and Mexican populations. I argue that these novel texts form the latest in a line of historical schemata for reckoning racial difference, specifically in Mexico.