Sunday, May 9, 2010

Strange Relations

This week, it was reported that a team working on Neanderthal genome sequencing efforts found that all modern human populations, outside of Sub-Saharan Africans, share some Neanderthal genetic material--perhaps 1 to 4 percent of their total genome. This suggests some interbreeding went on sometime before 45,000 years ago--after the first human exodus from Africa, but before the split that led to groups spreading out over Eurasia.

Maybe its just me, but I think this has some gaming applications. I've already suggested that dwarves are Neanderthals uplifted by an alien intelligence--at least in my campaign setting. Let's add to this idea the background of Ska from Jack Vance's Lyonesse Trilogy--who hold themselves to be the only pure humans because they believe all other populations to be interbred with Neanderthals--and apply the resultant mixture to the standard D&D implied setting, and see what we get...

Maybe elves represent "pure" humanity undiluted by interbreeding with other hominids? They never left the ancestral homeland, whether in some Uttermost West, or elsewhere. Why not the South where the ancestral population might be darker-skinned (and perhaps call themselves "the First Born" for a nice Burroughs Easter egg)? Then, "humans" could be a more mixed bunch, descendants of folk who left the ancestral homeland and encountered other groups. Dwarves would still be "purer" Neanderthal descendants. This would nicely set elves and dwarves up as disparate groups, but humans would share a bit of both.

We don't have to stop there. Orcs could be descendants of another hominid species entirely, as might halflings--or maybe halflings are just an interesting human sub-population, whichever. The point is, all humanoids and demi-humans could be woven into a riotous fantasy hominid family tree.


Risus Monkey said...

I always thought that a shared ancestry for demi-human races seemed more plausible than a bunch of independently created/evolved humanoids that so closely resemble each other (and that could also interbreed). In my Dragonspire settting, humans formed the base stock from which the other humanoids descended. I like the idea that the elves are the pure stock, however. And having them hail from the south would be a nice touch.

Dungeonmum said...

I agree with Risus Monkey - it seems only logical that they would all be branches from the same tree, given how similar all the humanoid races are and how dissimilar humans are from their nearest relations in this world.

On the subject of Vance, I like the fact that in the dying earth series virtually all creatures: people, monsters, beasts of burden, cattle are of human origin. There's an unsettling moment in one of the Cugle stories where he has a conversation with one.

ancientvaults said...

I was watching the History Channel last night, catching Tuesday's Ancient Aliens repeat and the first theory they explored was that aliens came here to mine gold, found dumb humans (maybe neanderthals) and raised a few of them to be smarter slaves. This was found in ancient Sumerian texts, which also contained a rough of Genesis (pre Hebrew even).

Maybe, in taking this a bit further, some extra-planar or extra-terrestrial intelligences created basic humans and demi-humans for different purposes, made them a little too smart and they revolted, but lost the technology, becoming what they are in a typical fantasy world today.

Trey said...

@Risus & Dungeonmum - I agree that a "common origin" sort of approach is more scientifically plausibe--and that's sort of the approach I follow in my campaign with dwarves as earlier hominids, and elves as transhuman/post-human (as, in a way, are the "genetically engineered" halflings and orcs). Some people though, like the less "realistic" multiorigins in their fantasy. YMMV, and all that.

@vaults - Good idea. That's sort of what I have going on with my world's dwarves--except they never rebelled.

Risus Monkey said...

To be clear: I specifically chose the "common stock" approach because plausibility fit my setting. I'm perfectly comfortable with a less "realistic" approach for other settings.

But yeah, ancientvaults' apporach is pretty much the one I took. In my case, it was dragon who found the dumb humans and uplifted them into elves. Then the dragon and (later) the elves who created subsequent racial divisions (dwarves, orcs, etc).