serious

Merde, il pleut.

Pissing down out.

In other news, the KBO previously known as Xena has now been officially named Eris, so if you go to the pub this evening you'll find the discordians celebrating and the slash fans weeping into their Bacardi Breezers. And tomorrow the Grauniad's wallchart is of British invertebrates, so buy a copy for an arachnophobe near you. Buy one for every room in the house if you wish.

There are articles floating around about Neanderthal remains from Gibraltar, and the pic in the paper shows something I'd been thinking about recently - black Neanderthals. I don't think I've seen them shown as black before, presumably because they were a European species. I don't suppose any of you have heard of anything being known about their skin tones? The Neanderthal genome sequence may well hold the key to knowing that, of course.
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I suppose there's every reason to suppose that Neanderthals living that far south would have adapted to the local conditions in terms of melanin production, and been darker-skinned than their Northern European cousins. Gibraltar is practically North Africa, after all.
If there was a population across Europe, then I'd expect dilution to stop them from being darker than (say) olive-skinned if as a population they were white. The picture's of two Neanderthals with blue-black skin, though, so it's very different from the others I've seen. If they were white, though, it would have to have developed separately from the whiteness of modern Europe, because the split between Neanderthals and the line leading to modern humans happened way, way before (hundreds of thousands of years before) modern humans left Africa and (in Europe) got paler.

So yes, I'd think they'd be darker, but if they were that dark, then they wouldn't have been white at all, as far as I can tell.
Would depend how dispersed the population was, wouldn't it? I don't know what sort of estimates of population density for Neanderthals have been made, but I get the impression that they ranged over quite a wide area and there wouldn't necessarily have been a lot of contact between tribes for dilution to occur.
To an extent, yes, but my guess would be that you wouldn't need much contact. Chimps aren't though of as having much contact between groups, but it turns out that there's a lot more interbreeding than people had any reason to expect.
It may possibly also depend on selection techniques; apparently a study was done a while back using a species of russian fox; in the wild, they're all a pretty uniform shape, size, colour, hair texture, etc. However, some Russian chap selectively bred them for docility and sociable behaviour, and within four generations, he had red ones and grey ones and brown ones and white ones and black ones, and small ones and big ones and medium ones, and curly-haired ones and straight-haired ones and long-haired ones and short-haired ones and so on. It has been theorised that the fairly collosal differences in human skin tones, hair types, etc, could be due to a similar form of selective breeding. If that's the case, it could also be true of Neanderthals, I guess?
There's definitely an argument for hair colour in there, and possibly other things too. I'd fight a bit shy of extending it to skintone, though, because it does seem to have been adaptive in the recent past. That's not an argument against it in principle, though, and I think I read a while back that redheads only exist because of positive selection like that.
That would explain why wild mice, rats, gerbils etc. are pretty uniform in colour but the domestic ones come in a huge variety of colours.
It'd depend on various bits of Neanderthal metabolism - as I understand it a theory is that humans in regions further from the equator lost some of their skin melanin thereby increasing vitamin D synthesis, which relies on incident light.
That's certainly the view concerning modern whites, and it's reasonable to guess that Neanderthals would share that. I'm wondering if it's just a guess, though, or whether we have direct or indirect evidence.

A pale skin isn't definitely the only such adaptation that occurred in Europe - it's been suggested that the mutation leading to systic fibrosis gave a form of lactose tolerance in heterozygotes, letting them get vitamin D from milk, before the more usual form of lactose tolerance developed. This would explain CF being so much more common in European/European-descended populations than others. In principle Neanderthals might have also had a different adaptation too.
If the Neanderthals weren't farming, it's unlikely they had any pressure for post-infant lactose tolerance.
True, but I was just saying that other mechanisms than outright palefacery exist. It's not necessarily the case that they'd take the same path, although it does seem most likely that they would.
It's difficult to think of a way that evidence - outside DNA, as you say - of skin colour could be preserved. In order for skin to survive there'd have to be a fairly stupendous context: somewhere that had been continuously frozen or completely without oxygen for a good 25,000 years at least. The chances of a neanderthal conveniently happening to die in just the right place at the right time are small, and the chances of that neanderthal then being found and identified in such a way and at such a speed that it could be properly investigated are much, much smaller.

Even if all of this did happen, the effect of that sort of exposure over that period of time on human/hominid skin just isn't known: it could easily be blanched or tanned black just by the conditions of its survival (as is the case with the bog bodies).

All-in-all, I wouldn't hold out much hope of conventional archaeology yielding much on it. DNA, of course, is an entirely different matter, and one you'd know far more about than I do. How far away are we from understanding the genetics of skin colour in modern humans?
Freezing would be better from this point of view, and of course there have been a great many frozen mammoths recovered. No Neanderthals, though, as far as I'm aware.

The more biochemical side of the difference is fairly straightforward and has been known for ages, because you can see the differences in what happens to the melanin granules under a very ordinary light microscope.

The genetics . . .seems to be a bit of a pig, with over 100 genes involved, but if one gene does indeed cover 30%(ish) of the inherited component, then looking at it could give a good indication, subject to the inevitable couple of caveats. Firstly, it may not necessarily have been involved in any change (again, there's no reason to assume an identical mechanism to that in modern humans), so looking at it might not tell us whether skin colour changed in Neanderthals, and secondly it might have been polymorphous in the population, so we'd need to try and assess the overall frequencies, which isn't going to be plausible anytime soon.
And where there are large quantities of huntable meat (i.e. mammoths) wandering about, one might expect hunters, who might very easily die and get preserved in the same way as their quarry sometimes does. I don't know what evidence there may be for Neanderthals (as opposed to modern humans) hunting mammoth, though. But yes, if they did - and so were hanging around the sorts of areas where rapid and permanent freezing was a possibility - then it's possible.
It'd be quite difficult - if you identify a pigmentation gene pathway (fairly plausible), you'd also have to identify where it was switched on and the level of transcription, and using purely genetic techniques that'd be challenging.
I didn't care either way about the Pluto debate, but for some reason the de-Xena-ing of Non-planet #[6 digits or so] made me sad. I never even saw a single episode, go figure; I just liked the whimsy. Anyway, Eris is a good name too.

All the astronomical controversy reminds me that we haven't gotten further than the moon. No flying cars... no Martian vacations... no colonists building orbitals around distant stars...
Well, Xena's not a proper mythological name.

I'm following the continuing trickle of information concerning the orbital tower development process with some interest, although the question over delivery is less likely to be whether it'll be in my lifetime than whether it'll be that of anyone now alive. Assuming it turns out to be practical at all, of course.

If we ever get one up it would, in SF terms, be Really Quite Cool.
Well, Xena's not a proper mythological name.

So picky!

orbital tower development process

What's this? I was thinking Iain M. Banks-type orbitals, which I can't imagine being under development now.
So picky!

They take their naming conventions quite seriously.

What's this?

1. Take a large geostationary satellite.

2. Tie a piece of string to it and attach the other end to the ground.

3. Run lifts up and down the string.

Rockets? Pah! We don't need no steenking rockets.
(Anonymous)
Oh, the space elevator! I vaguely knew there was some actual research going on for that. Yes, that would be extremely cool.
Neanderthal's
I don't think in skin tones very often. But I've always (in my head) equated Neanderthal with 'early' or 'old' peoples like Australian Aborigines. Mainly because of the way the Europeans came along and basically wiped them out like a food animal species. (they were hunted like foxes!)

However, these same people (ancestors thereof), thrive in PNG, where the European christian missionaries have been food for the 'natives' for centuries. PNG tribes are fearce to outsiders in a way that the branch that went to Australia obviously lost. Perhaps the harsh climate and lack of competition for space, meant they evolved to survive in the landscape, rather than to be able to defend themselves or fight other tribes.

So, I guess, to me, if such things really mattered, Neanderthal's skin would be darker cos they spent more time in warmer places. (yeah I know they also lived in caves in europe after the iceage, but still. I don't think they were in a sun-starved place long enough for pigment to pale out). But hey, what do I know.
"Merde, il pleut?"
(Anonymous)
I don't know.... I go looking for snippets of French and find references to slash and the Illuminati. Splendid. You are a scholar and a gentleman, sir.
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It seems that this funny thing a friend once said, and which has stuck with me for years -- "Merde, il pleut!" -- is an actual saying that other people have as well.

T'Interweb seems to know of it as a witticism (or, en Francais, un bon mot?) that you can get stencilled across an umbrella. This is of course a product I want... But it's not the answer to where "Merde, il pleut!" comes from.

Is it a quote? Where DOES it come from?

--Osric.
Neville -dot- Percy -at- Gmail -dot- com.
Re: "Merde, il pleut?"
I remember it from umbrellas that someone used to sell in the back of Private Eye. It may well have been an old saying then, of course.