Our close cousins who disappeared nearly 39,000 years ago were the Neanderthals. Everyone around the world is share about 1 to 3 % of their DNA with the Neanderthals.
Scientists found a jawbone in Romania, of a man who roamed the Earth 40,000 years ago, which boasts the most Neanderthal ancestry ever seen in a member of our species.
Interbreeding with Neanderthals occurred much more recently than previously known.
Neanderthals is an extinct species of human that was widely distributed in ice-age Europe between circa 120,000 and 35,000 years ago, with a receding forehead and prominent brow ridges.
“We show that one of the very first modern humans that are known from Europe had a Neanderthal ancestor just four to six generations back in his family tree,” said geneticist Svante Pääbo of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
Harvard Medical School geneticist David Reich said 6 to 9 per cent of this individual’s genome derived from a Neanderthal ancestor. “He carries more Neanderthal DNA than any other present-day or ancient modern human seen to date.”
A study, published in the journal Nature, indicates that our species interbred with Neanderthals in Europe as well, not just in the Middle East as previously thought.
At first it was thought that interbreeding happened 50,000 to 60,000 years, arising in Africa and coming into Europe, Asia and beyond, but DNA in the fossil, which is 37,000 to 42,000 years old, suggests the individual had a Neanderthal ancestor four to six generations back, reports Reuters. In other words, a great-great-grandparent might’ve been a Neanderthal, notes LiveScience. That shows interbreeding occurred far more recently than scientists had guessed.
The scientists said a Neanderthal was among the individual’s ancestors as recently as perhaps 100 to 150 years.
Reich said genetic analysis showed the individual entered Europe but did not give rise to later populations.
“This is interesting because it means that Europe has not been continuously occupied by the same lineages ever since the first waves of migration of modern humans into Europe,” Reich said.
The robust, large-browed Neanderthals prospered across Europe and Asia from about 350,000 years ago till shortly after 40,000 years ago, disappearing in the period after Homo sapiens arrived.
The lower jawbone was found in Oase Cave in south-western Romania. Back in 2002 but previous attempts to extract DNA were unsuccessful but recent technological advances facilitated the new findings.