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This 40,000–year–old human mandible, found in a Romanian cave, has a mix of human and Neanderthal traits; genetic analysis suggests the individual had a close Neanderthal ancestor 4–6 generations back.

This 40,000–year–old human mandible, found in a Romanian cave, has a mix of human and Neanderthal traits; genetic analysis suggests the person had a close Neanderthal ancestor 4–6 generations back.

At last week’s Biology of Genomes meeting in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, Qiaomei Fu, a palaeogenomicist at Harvard Medical School, raised the concept that modern humans were mating with Neanderthals right near the time they became extinct. She and her team estimate that 5–11% of the genome of the 40,000 year old mandible from Peștera cu Oase, Romania is Neanderthal, including large chunks of several chromosomes. By analysing how lengths of DNA inherited from any one ancestor shorten with each generation, the team estimated that the man had a Neanderthal ancestor in the earlier 4–6 generations.

This is much more recent than before believed. Furthermore, this finding goes against one of the previously held beliefs that humans and Neandertals only mated early on when the two species first met in the Middle East and suggests, says Fum that both species were meeting and mating for the period in which they were coexisting, about 20,000 years in total.

  • Related articles:
    Trinkaus E, Moldovan O, Milota S, et al. An early modern human from the Peştera cu Oase, Romania. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2003;100(20):11231-6.
  • Hershkovitz I, Marder O, Ayalon A, et al. Levantine cranium from Manot Cave (Israel) foreshadows the first European modern humans. Nature. 2015;520(7546):216-9.
  • Higham T, Douka K, Wood R, et al. The timing and spatiotemporal patterning of Neanderthal disappearance. Nature. 2014;512(7514):306-9.
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