Those of you who’ve checked out the Vampire Domestication Talk might remember the slide from which this inset was taken: a timeline of hominid ancestry, showing the recent divergence of the vampire lineage and its subsequent extinction/reintegration into the human baseline. While the fusion of separate species is commonplace among microbes (the “tree” of life is actually more of a “mesh” that far down), H. sapiens vampiris (or whedonum — the specific taxonomy is still a matter of heated dispute) was by far the most dramatic case in point among the mammals. And when it came to sketching in the backstory for Blindsight, I had to do a fair bit of dancing to explain why a whole other humanoid species could have coexisted with us just a few tens of thousands of years ago, and yet not have appeared in the fossil record.
Turns out I needn’t have bothered. This paper from Nature tentatively reports a newly-discovered hominin1 species coexisting with ours and the Neanderthals about 30,000 – 50,000 years ago; all three are thought to have split off from our common ancestor about a million years back. (A couple of popsci reports on the find here and here; shitloads of others lurk but a Google away.)
With a modest cough, I quote from Blindsight‘s endnotes: “Homo sapiens vampiris was a short-lived Human subspecies which diverged from the ancestral line between 800,000 and 500,000 year BP. ” It was a lucky guess, admittedly; I’m no expert on hominid evolution. And the very existence of this new species remains controversial, based as it is entirely on mitochondrial sequences taken from a single finger bone in southern Siberia. All we know is that those sequences are too divergent from human norms to fit comfortably onto our own twig of the family tree; nobody’s even guessed at how they might manifest phenotypically. Until they do, I can always hope for really good night vision, superhuman reflexes, and a deficiency in the protocadherin synthesis pathways.
In the meantime, though, it’s a cool coincidence, and a take-home lesson: we never know as much as we think we do, so I probably shouldn’t spend so many pages trying to reconcile my skiffy inventions with the real-world state-of-the-art at time of writing.
If nothing else, it might make my books more readable.
1“hominin”. What we’ve started using instead of “hominid”. Who knew.