There's an interesting article in today's NY Times on new findings about human evolution:
In a paper in the journal Nature, scientists reported Wednesday that they had retrieved ancient human DNA from a fossil dating back about 400,000 years, shattering the previous record of 100,000 years.
The fossil, a thigh bone found in Spain, had previously seemed to many experts to belong to a forerunner of Neanderthals. But its DNA tells a very different story. It most closely resembles DNA from an enigmatic lineage of humans known as Denisovans. Until now, Denisovans were known only from DNA retrieved from 80,000-year-old remains in Siberia, 4,000 miles east of where the new DNA was found.
The mismatch between the anatomical and genetic evidence surprised the scientists, who are now rethinking human evolution over the past few hundred thousand years. It is possible, for example, that there are many extinct human populations that scientists have yet to discover. They might have interbred, swapping DNA. Scientists hope that further studies of extremely ancient human DNA will clarify the mystery.
As a science fiction fan, this story got me to thinking that there ought to be a lot of alternate history/fantasy possibilities here. Suppose that Neanderthals, Denisovans, and Homo floresiensis had not died out, but instead survived into modern times to compete with modern humans. Assuming the four races of man ended up with roughly equivalent intelligence, you'd have modern humans dominating Africa, Neanderthals dominant in Europe, Denisovans dominant in East Asia and "Hobbits" in Australasia. As is true today, the Middle East presumably would be a point of contact and conflict. The Americas might have been colonized by Denisovans crossing the Bering Straits, although perhaps also by Neanderthals coming across the North Atlantic or Hobbits following the Polynesian route.
- What would be the main sources of conflict?
- How would half-breeds be treated by the various societies?
- Relatedly, would there be race pursists?
- How would racial, ethnic, national, or relgiious differences among a single species play out in a world with 4 distinct species?
I think somebody good ought to get on this idea before Amazon is overrun by hacks with their 99-cent ebooks discrediting the whole idea. I suppose there's always Hary Turtledove to call upon.