Early Euro­peans in­ter­bred with Ne­an­derthals: study

The China Post - - LIFE GUIDE POST -

Around 45,000 years ago, the only hu­mans who lived in Europe were Ne­an­derthals.

Some 10,000 years later, if the sketchy fos­sil record is right, the Ne­an­derthals had been re­placed by our an­ces­tors, and one of the great­est mys­ter­ies in an­thro­pol­ogy was born.

Were the Ne­an­derthals wiped out by Homo sapi­ens, the smart ho­minids who rose out of Africa and went on to con­quer the planet?

Or did they peter out as a sep­a­rate line, sur­viv­ing as a ge­netic echo in DNA they be­queathed to us?

A new study, pub­lished in the jour­nal Na­ture on Mon­day, delves into the con­tro­ver­sial Ne­an­derthals the­ory.

The hanky-panky, it sug­gests, had deep roots, for it be­gan soon af­ter H. sapi­ens showed up in Europe.

Re­searchers ex­tracted DNA from the 40,000-year-old jaw­bone, found in 2002 in the Pestera cu Oase cave sys­tem in south­west­ern Ro­ma­nia, which is claimed to come from the old­est mod­ern hu­man found in Europe.

“The sam­ple is more closely re­lated to Ne­an­derthals than any other mod­ern hu­man we’ve ever looked at be­fore,” said David Re­ich of the Howard Hughes Med­i­cal In­sti­tute at Har­vard Med­i­cal School,

sex-with- who co-led the probe.

“We es­ti­mate that six to nine per­cent of its genome is from Ne­an­derthals. This is an un­prece­dented amount. Euro­peans and East Asians to­day have more like two per­cent.”

The pro­por­tion is so big that in this in­di­vid­ual’s case, Ne­an­derthal and sapi­ens got it on just 200 years ear­lier, or four to six gen­er­a­tions pre­vi­ously, the sci­en­tists be­lieve.

H. sapi­ens ar­rived in Europe from the Mid­dle East, the first stop­ping point in our fore­run­ners’ emer­gence from Africa, ac­cord­ing to a com­mon the­ory.

In­ter­breed­ing be­tween Ne­an­derthals and H. sapi­ens in the Mid­dle East oc­curred around 50,000-60,000 years ago, pre­vi­ous fos­sil re­search sug­gests.

But the new study says the min­gling did cer­tainly did not stop there.

“Mix­ture be­tween mod­ern hu­mans and Ne­an­derthals was not lim­ited to the first an­ces­tors of present-day peo­ple to leave Africa, or to peo­ple in the Near East,” ac­cord­ing to the pa­per.

“It oc­curred later as well, and prob­a­bly in Europe.”

Re­ich’s co-leader in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is Svante Paabo of the Max Planck In­sti­tute for Evo­lu­tion­ary An­thro­pol­ogy in Ger­many.

In 2010, Paabo made ground­break­ing dis­cov­er­ies in the in­ter- breed­ing story.

He pub­lished a se­quence of the Ne­an­derthal genome and com­pared it to the DNA of eth­nic groups around the world to­day.

With the ex­cep­tion of peo­ple who have their roots in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, all hu­mans have a lit­tle of our enig­matic cousins in them, it said.

One in­trigu­ing find is that the Ne­an­derthal traces found in the Oase re­mains are not found in di­rect Euro­pean de­scen­dants to­day, it found.

“It may be that he was part of an early mi­gra­tion of mod­ern hu­mans to Europe that in­ter­acted closely with Ne­an­derthals but even­tu­ally be­came ex­tinct,” said Re­ich.

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