Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Svante Pääbo: ‘It’s maybe time to rethink our idea of Neanderthals’

Svante Pääbo says becoming a Nobel laureate has been ‘a burden … but a pleasant burden’. Photograph: Jens Schlueter/Getty Images

A greyish neanderthal skeleton stands at the door of Svante Pääbo’s office, acting like a doorman to check up on his visitors, who have grown considerably in number since it was announced he was to receive a Nobel prize. It clutches a white party balloon in its left hand and is missing its right lower arm.

“Unfortunately my son broke it off once,” says Pääbo with a chuckle, patting the skeleton’s head.

On the day the Guardian visits, the Swedish geneticist is still reeling from the shock of having been chosen as Nobel laureate for Medicine or physiology (the prize straddles both fields) in October. A bottle of champagne stands on his desk along with messages of congratulations from friends and colleagues. Over coffee and shortbread in a rare interview, he admits: “It’s a bit of a burden, to be honest, all the attention I’ve been getting. But it’s a pleasant burden, and one for which I know I can’t expect much sympathy.”

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