How Neanderthals Became White: the Introgression of Race into Contemporary Human Evolutionary Genetics*

Published In

American Naturalist

Document Type


Publication Date



Human evolutionary theory has a history rife with racial biases in what might be considered its distant past that can appear glaringly obvious from our current vantage point. Despite the recognition that as a social activity science is always vulnerable to such biases (and science that attempts to uncover human origin stories all the more so), commitment to the scientific method can lead us to believe that we have improved on, overcome, or otherwise escaped these tendencies in our contemporary practices, whether through scientific contrition, changing social context, or better training and composition of research teams or as a result of advances in technologies and methodologies. This article adapts the evolutionary biology concept of introgression, which refers to the hybridization and repeated bidirectional backcross exchange of information between species, as a metaphorical frame to examine science itself and to trace the ways in which historic race biases from earlier, disowned human evolution research have been retained and selected for beneath the surface of current genomic research today. It takes as its focus the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome, first announced in 2006 and refined since, and the explosion of scientific research comparing that sequence to present-day human DNA from individuals around the world to illustrate the ways in which current research questions and findings in comparative evolutionary genomics draw on and dredge up earlier biases, albeit adapted to and disguised within contemporary social relations and power differentials.


© 2022 The University of Chicago.

Locate the Document



Persistent Identifier