(ORDO NEWS) — Modern man does not need to have a keen sense of smell in order to get his livelihood – but were fossil Neanderthals and Denisovans different from us in this respect?
In many mammals, the sense of smell plays a much greater role in everyday life than vision: with its help, animals search for food, explore the territory and communicate with relatives.
Having sniffed the odorous mark left by another individual, a mouse, wolf or deer will immediately understand who has been here, how long ago and what was the state of his health.
A person, of course, also uses his nose in everyday life, but his sensitivity to smells is much lower, probably because the modern inhabitant of the metropolis does not need to hunt down prey or look for edible fruits.
However, ancient people – Neanderthals and Denisovans – were definitely hunter-gatherers. So how was their sense of smell?
To assess the sharpness of their sense of smell, researchers from Duke University (USA) used an unusual method: using collected collections of ancient DNA, they studied the genes responsible for the development of olfactory receptors.
This allowed them to assess the diversity of olfactory receptors (and, as a result, the ability to perceive a greater number of odors) and their sensitivity to various aromas in Neanderthals, Denisovans and modern humans.
The results showed that, despite the “wild” way of life, Neanderthals and Denisovans perceived the same variety of odors as modern people, although their sensitivity to them differed.
So, for example, Denisovans felt flower smells worse than modern people, but they caught the smell of sulfur in the air four times better, and felt the aroma of sweet honey best of all.
As for Neanderthals, their diversity of olfactory receptors was slightly higher than that of modern humans, but they were three times less sensitive to the smells of grass and flowers, and they also perceived floral aromas worse.
Apparently, the “cultivation” of modern man did not at all deprive him of his sense of smell – we still use the same variety of receptors as our extinct relatives, although we are not so sensitive to certain smells.
In the civilized world of perfumes, deodorants and fragrances, the ability to distinguish subtle odors has almost lost its importance, but some modern people still lead a primitive lifestyle, where they have to use all their senses in order not to remain hungry.
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