The Accretion model of Neandertal evolution specifies that this group of Late Pleistocene hominids evolved in partial or complete genetic isolation from the rest of humanity through the gradual accumulation of distinctive morphological traits in European populations. As they became more common, these traits also became less variable, according to those workers who developed the model. Its supporters propose that genetic drift caused this evolution, resulting from an initial small European population size and either complete isolation or drastic reduction in gene flow between this deme and contemporary human populations elsewhere. Here, we test an evolutionary model of gene flow between regions against fossil data from the European population of the Middle and Late Pleistocene. The results of the analysis clearly show that the European population was not significantly divergent from its contemporaries, even in a subset of traits chosen to show the maximum differences between Europeans and other populations. The pattern of changes, over time within Europe of the traits in this subset, does not support the Accretion model, either because the characters did not change in the manner specified by the model or because the characters did not change at all. From these data, we can conclude that special phenomena such as near-complete isolation of the European population during the Pleistocene are not required to explain the pattern of evolution in this region.
Corresponding Editor: E. Brodie III