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Early Neanderthals lived in Europe 120,000 years ago

Bones belonging to two different Neanderthals in Europe have recently had their nuclear genome sequences analyzed by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

A femur bone belonging to a male Neanderthal was discovered in Hohlenstein-Stadel Cave, Germany in 1937, while the maxillary bone of a Neanderthal girl was found in 1993 in Scladina Cave, Belgium. Both individuals lived around 120,000 years ago, predating most of the Neanderthals whose genomes have been previously sequenced.

Through their analysis of the nuclear genomes of these Neanderthals, the researchers were able to determine that these early Neanderthals in Western Europe were more closely related to the last Neanderthals who lived in the same region as much as 80,000 years later, than they were to the contemporaneous Neanderthals living in Siberia. 

Femur of a male Neandertal, Image © Oleg Kuchar, Museum Ulm

The result is truly extraordinary and a stark contrast to the turbulent history of replacements, large-scale admixtures and extinctions that is seen in modern human history,” says Kay Prüfer, who supervised the study.

Although the nuclear genome of the male Neandertal from Germany is similar to that of later Neanderthals, the mitochondrial genome is quite different. An earlier report had shown that over 70 mutations distinguished it from the mitochondrial genomes of other Neanderthals.

In their study, the researchers suggest that early European Neanderthals may have inherited DNA from a currently unknown population. Stéphane Peyrégne, who led the analysis, concludes, 

“This unknown population could represent an isolated Neanderhtal population yet to be discovered, or may be from a potentially larger population in Africa related to modern humans.”

By Connor Ertz, Staff Writer

Main Image Credit: Shutterstock/iurii

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