For a period of time, Neanderthals overlapped with humans and even had sex with them. Neanderthals and closely Denisovans are our closest extinct relatives. Several studies have shown that most people of Eurasian descent carry between and one and four percent of Neanderthal genes in their own genome.

Jon Mooallemjan wrote in the New York Times magazine: The first contact between humans and Neanderthals “obsessed me: What would it have been like to look out over a grassy plain and watch parallel humanity pass by? Scientists often turn to historical first contacts as frames of reference, like the arrival of Europeans among Native Americans, or Captain Cook landing in Australia — largely histories of violence and subjugation. But as João Zilhão, a researcher at the University of Barcelona, points out, typically one of those two cultures set out to conquer the other. “Those people were conscious that they’d come from somewhere else,” he told me. “They were a product of a civilization that had books, that had studied their past.” [Source: Jon Mooallemjan, New York Times magazine, January 11, 2017 ||*||]

“Homo sapiens encountering Neanderthals would have been different: They met uncoupled from politics and history; neither identified as part of a network of millions of supposedly more advanced people. And so, as Clive Finlayson of the Gibralter Museum put it to me: “Each valley could have told a different story. In one, they may have hit each other over the head. In another, they may have made love. In another, they ignored each other.”

“It’s a kind of coexistence that our modern imaginations may no longer be sensitive enough to envision. So much of our identity as a species is tied up in our anomalousness, in our dominion over others. But that narcissistic self-image is an exceedingly recent privilege. (“Outside the world of Tolkienesque fantasy literature, we tend to think that it is normal for there to be just one human species on Earth at a time,” the writers Dimitra Papagianni and Michael A. Morse explain. “The past 20 or 30 millennia, however, have been the exception.”) Now, eating lunch, I considered that the co-occurrence of humans and Neanderthals hadn’t been so trippy or profound after all. Maybe it looked as mundane as this: two groups, lingering on a beach, only sort of acknowledging each other. Maybe the many millenniums during which we shared Eurasia was, much of the time, like a superlong elevator ride with strangers.” ||*||

Websites and Resources on Neanderthals: Wikipedia: Neanderthals Wikipedia ; Neanderthals Study Guide ; Neandertals on Trial, from PBS; The Neanderthal Museum ; The Neanderthal Flute, by Bob Fink Websites and Resources on Prehistoric Art: Chauvet Cave Paintings ; Cave of Lascaux; Trust for African Rock Art (TARA); Bradshaw Foundation; Australian and Asian Palaeoanthropology, by Peter Brown

Websites and Resources on Hominins and Human Origins: Smithsonian Human Origins Program ; Institute of Human Origins ; Becoming Human University of Arizona site ; Talk Origins Index ; Last updated 2006. Hall of Human Origins American Museum of Natural History ; Wikipedia article on Human Evolution Wikipedia ; Human Evolution Images; Hominin Species ; Paleoanthropology Links ; Britannica Human Evolution ; Human Evolution ; National Geographic Map of Human Migrations ; Humin Origins Washington State University ; University of California Museum of Anthropology; BBC The evolution of man"; "Bones, Stones and Genes: The Origin of Modern Humans" (Video lecture series). Howard Hughes Medical Institute.; Human Evolution Timeline ; Walking with Cavemen (BBC) ; PBS Evolution: Humans; PBS: Human Evolution Library; Human Evolution: you try it, from PBS; John Hawks' Anthropology Weblog ; New Scientist: Human Evolution; Fossil Sites and Organizations: The Paleoanthropology Society; Institute of Human Origins (Don Johanson's organization); The Leakey Foundation; The Stone Age Institute; The Bradshaw Foundation ; Turkana Basin Institute; Koobi Fora Research Project; Maropeng Cradle of Humankind, South Africa ; Blombus Cave Project; Journals: Journal of Human Evolution; American Journal of Physical Anthropology; Evolutionary Anthropology; Comptes Rendus Palevol ; PaleoAnthropology

Divergence Between Neanderthals and Modern Humans

Modern humans, or Homo sapiens, are not the descendants of Neanderthals or Denisovans, although they did live as contemporaries at one time and interbred. Bridget Alex wrote in The Guardian: “At least one evolutionary split was pinned down in 2016, after ancient DNA was extracted from 430,000 year-old hominin fossils from Sima de los Huesos, Spain. The Sima hominins looked like early members of the Neanderthal lineage based on morphological similarities. This hypothesis fit the timing of the split between Neanderthals and modern humans based on pedigree analysis (765,000-550,000 years ago), but did not work with the phylogenetic estimate (383,000-275,000 years ago). [Source: Bridget Alex, The Guardian, December 22, 2016|=|]

“Where do the Sima hominins belong on our family tree? Were they ancestors of both Neanderthals and modern humans, just Neanderthals, or neither? DNA answered this definitively. The Sima hominins belong to the Neanderthal branch after it split with modern humans. Moreover, the result provides a firm time point in our family tree, suggesting that the pedigree rate works for this period of human evolution. |=|

“Neanderthals and modern humans likely diverged between 765,000-550,000 years ago. Other evolutionary splits may soon be clarified as well, thanks to advances brought about by the mutation rate debates. Someday soon, when you see a chimp, you may be able to salute your great, great… great grandparent, with the correct number of “greats.” |=|

Neanderthals and Humans Split 550,000 and 765,000 Years Ago

In 2016, a team lead by Matthias Meyer,a molecular biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, sequenced 430,000-year-old DNA from a cave in northern Spain, and has pushed back estimates of the time at which the ancient predecessors of humans split from those of Neanderthals to 550,000 and 765,000 years ago. [Source: Ewen Callaway, Nature, March 14, 2016]

Ewen Callaway wrote in Nature: “The analysis addresses confusion over which species the remains belong to. A report published in 2013 sequenced a femur’s mitochondrial genome — which is made up of DNA from the cell’s energy-producing structures that is more abundant in cells than is nuclear DNA. It suggested that at least one individual identified from the remains was more closely related to a group called Denisovans — known from remains found thousands of kilometres away in Siberia — than it was to European Neanderthals. “It’s wonderful news to have mitochondrial and nuclear DNA from something that is 430,000 years old. It’s like science fiction. It’s an amazing opportunity,” says Maria Martinón-Torres, a palaeoanthropologist at University College London.

“The remains are known as the Sima hominins because they were found in Sima de los Huesos (Spanish for ‘pit of bones’), a 13-metre-deep shaft in Spain’s Atapuerca mountains. Few ancient sites are as important or intriguing as Sima, which holds the remains of at least 28 individuals, along with those of dozens of cave bears and other animals. The hominins might have plummeted to their death, but some researchers think they were deliberately buried there.

“The Sima hominin skulls have the beginnings of a prominent brow ridge, as well as other traits typical of Neanderthals. But other features, and uncertainties around their age — some studies put them at 600,000 years old, others closer to 400,000 — convinced many researchers that they might instead belong to an older species known as Homo heidelbergensis. Confusion peaked when Meyer, his colleague Svante Pääbo and their team revealed the mitochondrial connection to the Denisovans. But they hoped that retrieving the skeletons’ nuclear DNA — which represents many more lines of ancestry than does mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited solely from the maternal line — would clear things up.”

Homo splitter theory of human and Neanderthal development

The nuclear DNA, Meyer’s team,” reported in the March 14, 2016 issue of Nature, “shows that the Sima hominins are in fact early Neanderthals. And its age suggests that the early predecessors of humans diverged from those of Neanderthals between 550,000 and 765,000 years ago — too far back for the common ancestors of both to have been Homo heidelbergensis, as some had posited. Researchers should now be looking for a population that lived around 700,000 to 900,000 years ago, says Martinón-Torres. She thinks that Homo antecessor, known from 900,000-year-old remains from Spain, is the strongest candidate for the common ancestor, if such specimens can be found in Africa or the Middle East.”

Neanderthal and Modern Humans Side By Side

Neanderthals and modern humans overlapped in Europe for about 17,000 years — between 45,000 years ago, when the first modern humans entered Europe, and 28,000 years ago, when Neanderthals became extinct. They overlapped in a general area but shared such a large area they probably did run into each other much.

Neanderthals lived primarily in northern Europe and modern men, which were better adapted for warm climates, lived around the Mediterranean. There is evidence though that they coexisted in Spain around 32,000 years ago.

Neanderthals and “ Homo sapiens “ overlapped for thousands of years in Israel and appeared to live and hunt in similar manners, without one species have an edge over the other. Then suddenly around 50,000 years ago modern human began using fine blades and projectile weapons more advanced than the hand-held axes used by Neanderthals.

Stanford anthropologist Richard Klein told National Geographic, "I think there was a mutation in the brains of a group of anatomically modern human beings living in either Africa or the Middle East. Some new neurological connections let them behave in a modern way. Maybe it permitted fully articulate speech, so they can pass on information more efficiently."

Modern men migrate to Europe and the Middle East from Africa where they had evolved. The head better shelters, more efficient hearths and tailored clothing that Neanderthals didn't have.

Homo lumper theory of human and Neanderthal development

How Did Neanderthals and Humans Share Space

Modern humans and Neanderthals are believed to have coexisted in Europe for at least more than 5,000 years, giving them plenty of time to meet and mix and get to know one another. Associated Press reported: “Using new carbon dating techniques and mathematical models, researchers examined about 200 samples found at 40 sites from Spain to Russia, according to a study published in the journal Nature. They concluded with a high probability that pockets of Neanderthal culture survived until between 41,030 and 39,260 years ago. [Source: Associated Press, August 21, 2014]

“Although this puts the disappearance of Neanderthals earlier than some scientists previously thought, the findings support the idea that they lived alongside humans, who arrived in Europe about 45,000-43,000 years ago. “We believe we now have the first robust timeline that sheds new light on some of the key questions around the possible interactions between Neanderthals and modern humans,” said Thomas Higham, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford who led the study.

“While there is evidence that Neanderthal genes have survived in the DNA of today’s humans, suggesting that at least some interbreeding took place, scientists are still unclear about the extent of their contact and the reasons why Neanderthals vanished. “These new results confirm a long-suspected chronological overlap between the last Neanderthals and the first modern humans in Europe,” said Jean-Jacques Hublin, director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Apart from narrowing the length of time that the two species existed alongside each other to between 2,600 and 5,400 years, Higham and his colleagues also believe they have shown that Neanderthals and humans largely kept to themselves. “What we don’t see is that there is spatial overlap [in where they settled],” said Higham. This is considered puzzling, because there is evidence that late-stage Neanderthals were culturally influenced by modern humans. Samples taken from some Neanderthal sites include artefacts that look like those introduced to Europe by humans migrating from Africa. This would point to the possibility that Neanderthals, whose name derives from a valley in western Germany, adopted certain human habits and technologies even as they were being gradually pushed out of their territory. “I think they were eventually outcompeted,” said Higham.

Homo extreme splitter theory of human and Neanderthal development

“Wil Roebroeks, an archaeologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, cautioned that the study relied to a large degree on testing of stone tools, rather than bones, and these had not been conclusively linked to particular species, or hominins. “The results of this impressive dating study are clear, but the assumptions about the association of stone artefact with hominin types underlying the interpretation of the dating results will be undoubtedly rigorously tested in field – and laboratory – work over the near future,” said Roebroeks, who wasn’t involved in the study. “Such testing can now be done with a chronologically clean slate.”

Neanderthals and Humans: Living Together and Sharing DNA

Robin McKie wrote in The Guardian: “Homo sapiens and Neanderthals had a common ancestor, about 500,000 years ago, before the former evolved as a separate species – in Africa – and the latter as a different species in Europe. Then around 70,000 years ago, when modern humans emerged from Africa, we encountered the Neanderthals, most probably in the Middle East. We briefly mixed and interbred with them before we continued our slow diaspora across the planet. “In doing so, those early planetary settlers carried Neanderthal DNA with them as they spread out over the world’s four quarters. Hence its presence in all those of non-African origin. By contrast, Neanderthal DNA is absent in people of African origins because they remained in our species’s homeland [Source: Robin McKie, The Guardian, April 7, 2018]

Harvard University geneticist David Reich“Reich has since established that such interbreeding may have occurred on more than one occasion. More importantly, his studies show that “Neanderthals must have been more like us than we had imagined, perhaps capable of many behaviours that we typically associate with modern humans”. They would, most likely, have had language, culture and sophisticated behaviours. Hence the mutual attraction. That itself is intriguing. However, there is another key implication of Reich’s work. Previously, it had been commonplace to view human populations arising from ancestral groupings like the trunk of a great tree. “Present populations budded from past ones, which branched from a common root in Africa,” he states. “And it implies that if a population separates then it does not remix, as fusions of branches cannot occur.” |=|

“But the initial separation of the two lines of ancient humans who gave rise to Neanderthals and to Homo sapiens – and then their subsequent intermingling – shows that remixing does occur. Indeed, Reich believes it was commonplace and that the standard tree model of populations is basically wrong. Throughout our prehistory, populations have split, reformed, moved on, remixed and interbred and then moved on again. Alliances have shifted and empires have fallen in a perpetual, sliding global Game of Thrones. |=|

“An illustration is provided by the puzzling fact that Europeans and Native Americans share surprising genetic similarities. The explanation was provided by Reich who has discovered that a now nonexistent group of people, the Ancient North Eurasians, thrived around 15,000 years ago and then split into two groups. One migrated across Siberia and gave rise to the people who crossed the Bering land bridge between Asia and America and later gave rise to Native Americans. The other group headed west and contributed to Europeans. Hence the link between Europeans and Native Americans. |=|

“No physical specimen of the Ancient North Eurasian people had ever been discovered when Reich announced their existence. Instead, he based his analysis on the ghostly impact of their DNA on present-day people. However, the fossil remains of a boy, recently found near the Siberian village of Mal’ta, have since been found to have DNA that matches the genomes of Ancient North Eurasians, giving firmer physical proof of their existence. “Prior to the genome revolution, I – like most others – had assumed that the big genetic clusters of populations we see today reflect deep splits of the past. But in fact the big clusters today are themselves the result of mixtures of very different populations that existed earlier. There was never a single trunk population in the human past. It has been mixtures all the way down.” |=|

“Instead of a tree, a better metaphor would be a trellis, branching and remixing far back into the past, says Reich, whose work indicates that the idea of race is a very fluid, ephemeral concept. However, he is adamant that it is a very real one and takes issue with those geneticists who argue that there are no substantial differences in traits between populations. This is a strategy that we scientists can no longer afford and that in fact is positively harmful,” he argues. Plenty of traits show differences between populations: skin colour, susceptibility to disease, the ability to breath at high altitudes and the ability to digest starch. More to the point, uncovering these differences is only just beginning. Many more will be discovered over the decades, Reich believes. Crucially, we need to be able to debate the implications of their presence at varying levels in different populations. That is not happening at present and that has dangerous implications. If as scientists we wilfully abstain from laying out a rational framework for discussing human differences, we will leave a vacuum that will be filled by pseudoscience, an outcome that is far worse than anything we could achieve by talking openly,” says Reich. The genome revolution provides us with a shared history, he adds. “If we pay proper attention, it should give us an alternative to the evils of racism and nationalism and make us realise that we are all entitled equally to our human heritage.” |=|

Exchange of Microorganisms Between Neanderthals and Sapiens

According to the University of Adelaide, based on a DNA study of dental plaque found at El Sidron cave in northern Spain: “Neanderthals, ancient and modern humans also shared several disease-causing microbes, including the bacteria that cause dental caries and gum disease. The Neandertal plaque allowed reconstruction of the oldest microbial genome yet sequenced – Methanobrevibacter oralis, a commensal that can be associated with gum disease. Remarkably, the genome sequence suggests Neandertals and humans were swapping pathogens as recently as 180,000 years ago, long after the divergence of the two species. [Source: University of Adelaide and the Spanish National Research Council, March 9, 2017 **/]

“The team also noted how rapidly the oral microbial community has altered in recent history. The composition of the oral bacterial population in Neanderthals and both ancient and modern humans correlated closely with the amount of meat in the diet, with the Spanish Neanderthals grouping with chimpanzees and our forager ancestors in Africa. In contrast, the Belgian Neanderthal bacteria were similar to early hunter gatherers, and quite close to modern humans and early farmers. **/

“The scientific investigators compared Neanderthal oral micro-biotic data with human samples from Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers, African nomads, the first Neolithic farmers as well as from present-day man. “Micro-biotic information is key to learning about the host’s health. Neanderthals for example have fewer potentially pathogenic bacteria than we do. In today’s human population a link has been seen between oral micro-biotics and a spectrum of health issues such as cardiovascular problems, obesity, psoriasis, asthma, colitis and gastroesophageal reflux”, highlights CSIC researcher Carles Lalueza-Fox, who works at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (a CSIC-University of Pompeu Fabra shared centre). **/

“Furthermore, the dental plaque from the individuals at El Sidrón has also made it possible to retrieve the oldest complete microorganism genome: the ancient Methanobrevibacter oralis, which is now classified as a Neanderthal subspecies. The Neanderthal and modern human strains appear to have diverged between 112,000 and 143,000 years ago, after the two evolutionary lines split. “Today we know that crossbreeding took place on two occasions between sapiens and those Neanderthals who later lived in the Siberian region, but not with those in Asturias. If there was micro-biotic transfer between the Asturias Neanderthals and sapiens, then perhaps a cross-line existed between them, although we are yet to identify that”, concludes Lalueza Fox. **/

Homo sapiens and Neanderthals

Interbreeding Between Neanderthals and Modern Men

In May 2010, the team lead by Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute reported that, in the process of sequencing the Neanderthal genome, it found that between 1 percent and 4 percent of the genes that people from Europe and Asia possess can be traced back to Neanderthals. This means that humans and Neanderthals mated.

The discovery was reportedly in the journal Science in article authored by Paabo, Richard Green of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and David Reich of Harvard Medical School. It was determined by analyzing genetic material collected from bones of three Neanderthals and five modern humans. Their research showed a relationship between Neanderthal and modern humans outside of Africa, with the interbreeding likely taking place in the Middle East.

Before the discovery some anthropologists argued that modern men wiped out the Neanderthals. Others theorized the two species intermingled and Neanderthals were absorbed into the more numerous modern humans. Paabo told the Times of London, “It’s cool to think that some of us have a little Neanderthal DNA in us, but for me the opportunity to search for evidence of positive selection that happened shortly after the species separated is probably the most fascinating aspect of this project.”

Bones have been unearthed of individuals that have both Neanderthal and human qualities. In December 1998 Portuguese archaeologists João Maurício and Pedo Souto João Zilhão discovered a 24,500-year-old skeleton of a four-year-old boy near Fatima in Portugal that had chin, jaw and arm bones resembled those of “Homo sapiens” and a stocky torso and short legs like those of a Neanderthal. A 40,000-year-old skull of a teenager found in a Romania also showed traits of both Neanderthals and modern humans. Mostly it had traits associated with modern humans but its exceptionally large molars and relatively flat head are traits usually associated with Neanderthals.

Neanderthal expert Erik Trinkaus of Washington University told Time, Neanderthals may have been just another tribe. "They may have heavier brows or broader noses or stockier builds, but behaviorally, socially and reproductively they were all just people." He told National Geographic, “There were few people on the landscape, and you need to find a mate and reproduce, Why not? Humans are not known to be choosy. Sex happens.” He told Discover he believed that inbreeding was probably widespread: "This is not just two individuals who happened to meet in the bushes.”

The DNA evidence is far from a slam dunk or a smoking gun. Studies of DNA taken from the rib of a 30,000-year-old Neanderthal found in Germany in1856 indicate that Neanderthal's left no genetic legacy in today's people. Mitochondrial DNA studies suggest that Neanderthals and modern humans had a common ancestor 100,000 to 500,000 years but never mixed.

Neanderthals and Humans Appear to Have Sex and Interbred in Israel

Archeologists believe that Neanderthal and modern humans lived side by side in the Nahal Mea'rot (Cave River) nature reserve in a coastal mountain range of modern-day Israel. None of the bones uncovered at Nahal Me'arot - a World Heritage site - had lethal wounds which suggested prehistoric men lived in peace with each other 80,000 years ago. [Source: Daily Mail, 29 September 2012]

Neanderthals and humans lived side by side and appear to had sex and interbred with them. Stone axes and sharp flint arrowheads of both Neanderthals and modern humans have been discovered in limestone caves in northern Israel. The fact that modern mans carry some Neanderthal (suggests the two species had to have had sex. Genetic studies have indicated that modern Europeans got between 1 and four per cent of their genes from Neanderthals. The genes are thought to have spread through modern humans when small groups of pioneers who left Africa met and had sex with Neanderthals already long at home in Eurasia. Oldest genome sequence of a modern human suggests Homo sapiens first bred with Neanderthals 50,000-60,000 years ago |=|

Archeologist Daniel Kaufman told James Hilder of The Times that he believed peaceful cross-breeding between Neanderthals and modern humans was more likely the result of a consensual encounter than a rape attack. Kaufman said: 'If that interbreeding did take place, it must have been here.”

Homo sapiens Neanderthal comparison

Skull Found Israel Helps Pin Down Place Where Humans and Neanderthal First Had Sex

A modern human skull found in a northern Israeli cave in western Galilee, thought to be from 55,000-year-old female, matches up where scientists believe interbreeding with Neanderthals took place as modern humans migrated from Africa to Europe. Ian Sample wrote in The Guardian: The partial skull belonged to an individual, probably a woman, who lived and died in the region about 55,000 years ago, placing modern humans there and then for the first time ever. Homo sapiens walked out of Africa at least 60,000 years ago, but the harsh climate in parts of Europe at the time hampered their spread across much of the continent until about 45,000 years ago. The skull reveals that modern humans reached the Levant where the population may have given rise to those who later colonised Europe when the frozen climate abated and the territory became more habitable. [Source: Ian Sample, The Guardian, January 28, 2015 |=|]

“Israel Hershkovitz at Tel Aviv University said the skull, though missing its face and jaws, was an extraordinary find. Distinctly modern in its anatomy, the braincase resembles the European Cro-Magnons (robustly built early modern humans), but retains some African features too. “It’s amazing. This is the first specimen we have that connects Africa to Europe,” Hershkovitz told the Guardian. |=|

“Palaeontologists spotted the skull on a rocky shelf in the side chamber of the enormous Manot cave that was discovered by chance when a bulldozer broke through the roof while cutting a sewer trench for a nearby village. When scientists abseiled through the hole torn in the ceiling, they found the cave opened up more than 20 metres deep, 50 metres wide and 100 metres long. The original entrance to the cave had collapsed about 30,000 years ago, sealing off the contents. “We couldn’t believe our eyes. We immediately realised it was a prehistoric cave and that it had been inhabited for a very long time. Because the entrance had collapsed so long ago, it had been frozen in time. Nobody had been inside for 30,000 years,” said Hershkovitz. There is a huge central cave and several beautiful side chambers. In one side chamber, the skull was lying there on top of a rocky shelf. It was there waiting for us. We just had to pick it up,” he added. |=|

“Excavations at the site have yielded an impressive haul of modern human and antelope bones, but the partial skull is the oldest of the human remains recovered from the cave. How it came to be perched on a shelf in a side chamber of the cave is a mystery: it may have come to rest there after being washed in by floodwater. Or perhaps it was placed there intentionally by another individual living in the cave.” |=|

Manot Cave

Ian Sample, wrote in The Guardian: “Writing in the journal Nature, the scientists explain how dating the skull to 55,000 years ago reveals that modern humans arrived in the region when it was already well populated with Neanderthals. Skeletons of Neanderthals from the same time have been recovered from Amud cave 24 miles (40km) to the east of Manot cave, and from Kebara cave 30 miles to the south. [Source: Ian Sample, The Guardian, January 28, 2015 |=|]

“That modern humans and Neanderthals shared the land around Manot cave 50,000 to 60,000 years ago means that the rolling hills of what is now Galilee may have provided the romantic backdrop to the spell of interbreeding that left non-Africans with a smidgen of Neanderthal DNA. Genetic studies suggest that humans and Neanderthals mixed in the same 50,000 to 60,000-year-old period, most probably in western Asia. “Manot is the best candidate for the interbreeding of modern humans with Neanderthals and there is really no other candidate,” Hershkovitz said. “The people at Manot cave are the only population we know of that shared the same geographical region for a very long period of time,” he added. Without DNA from the skull, it is impossible to know if the Manot cave individual was a product of such couplings. |=|

“Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum, said the region was certainly a contender for the main interbreeding that happened 50 millennia ago, though further north than modern day Israel was possible. “At about 55,000 years old, this is the first modern human from western Asia which is well dated to the estimated timeframe of interbreeding between early modern humans and Neanderthals,” he said. “Manot might represent some of the elusive first migrants in the hypothesised out-of-Africa event about 60,000 years ago, a population whose descendants ultimately spread right across Asia, and also into Europe. Its discovery raises hopes of more complete specimens from this critical region and time period,” he added. |=|

Human Femur Helps Pin Down Time Where Humans and Neanderthal First Had Sex

An ancient leg bone found by chance on the bank of a Siberian river has helped scientists work out when early humans interbred with our extinct cousins, the Neanderthals. Ian Sample wrote in The Guardian: “A local ivory carver spotted the bone sticking out of sediments while fossil hunting in 2008 along the Irtysh river near the settlement of Ust’-Ishim in western Siberia. The bone was later identified as a human femur, but researchers have learned little else about the remains until now. The importance of the find became clear when a team led by Svante Pääbo and Janet Kelso at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig ran a series of tests on the fragile material. [Source: Ian Sample, The Guardian, October 22, 2014]

“Radiocarbon dating of pieces of the leg bone put the remains at around 45,000 years old. The team went on to extract DNA from the bone, which allowed them to reconstruct the oldest modern human genome ever. The genetic material showed that the thigh bone belonged to a man who carried about 2 percent Neanderthal DNA, a similar amount to people from Europe and Asia today. The presence of Neanderthal DNA meant that interbreeding between them and modern humans must have taken place at least 45,000 years ago. |=|

“But amid the DNA were more clues to when humans and Neanderthals reproduced. Strands of Neanderthal DNA found in modern humans can act like a biological clock, because they are fragmented more and more with each generation since interbreeding happened. The strands of Neanderthal DNA in the Siberian man were on average three times longer than those seen in people alive today. Working backwards, the scientists calculate that Neanderthals contributed to the man’s genetic ancestry somewhere between 7,000 and 13,000 years before he lived. |=|

“The findings, published in the journal Nature, suggest that humans and Neanderthals had reproductive sex around 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, though other couplings might well have happened later. Until now, estimates for interbreeding have varied enormously, ranging from 37,000 to 86,000 years ago. |“What we think may be the case is that the ancestors of the Ust’-Ishim man met and interbred with Neanderthals during the initial early admixture event that is shared by all non-Africans at between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago, and perhaps somewhere in the middle East,” Kelso told the Guardian. |=|

“But a small number of fragments of Neanderthal DNA in the man’s genome were longer than expected given how many generations had passed. Those might be evidence of his ancestors breeding with Neanderthals closer to the time he was born. “Everyone outside Africa has about same amount of Neanderthal DNA. It seems to be something early on where one really mixed with Neanderthals in a serious way,” said Pääbo. “Since that happened I wouldn’t be surprised if, now and again, one did it here and there later on too.” Prior to the latest study, the oldest modern human genome came from the 24,000-year-old remains of a boy buried at Mal’ta near Lake Baikal in easterbn Siberia. |=|

“Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, said the ancient DNA from the Siberian man sheds fresh light on the story of early human migrations out of Africa. In the 1920s and 30s, researchers found 100,000-year-old skeletons of modern humans in caves in what is now Israel. The remains may have belonged to a group of humans that left Africa and ultimately went on to colonise southern Asia, Australia and New Guinea. But an alternative explanation is that they were from a migration that failed to go much further. According to that view, the more successful dispersal of humans out of Africa happened much later, around 60,000 years ago. |=|

“The latest findings suggest that the ancestors of modern Australians, who carry a similar amount of Neanderthal DNA to Europeans and Asians, are unlikely to have picked up their own Neanderthal DNA before 60,000 years ago. “The ancestors of Australasians must have been part of a late, rather than early, dispersal through Neanderthal territory,” Stringer said. |=| “While it is still possible that modern humans did traverse southern Asia before 60,000 years ago, those groups could not have made a significant contribution to the surviving modern populations outside of Africa, which contain evidence of interbreeding with Neanderthals,” he added.” |=|

Human- Neanderthal Love Child Found Italy?

The skeletal remains of an individual found in northern Italy, dated to 40,000-30,000 years ago, are believed to be that of a human-Neanderthal hybrid, according to a paper in PLoS ONE. Jennifer Viegas wrote in Discovery News: “If further analysis proves the theory correct, the remains belonged to the first known such hybrid, providing direct evidence that humans and Neanderthals interbred. Prior genetic research determined the DNA of people with European and Asian ancestry is 1 to 4 percent Neanderthal. [Source: Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News, March 28, 2013 =]

“The present study focuses on the individual’s jaw, which was unearthed at a rock-shelter called Riparo di Mezzena in the Monti Lessini region of Italy. Both Neanderthals and modern humans inhabited Europe at the time. “From the morphology of the lower jaw, the face of the Mezzena individual would have looked somehow intermediate between classic Neanderthals, who had a rather receding lower jaw (no chin), and the modern humans, who present a projecting lower jaw with a strongly developed chin,” co-author Silvana Condemi, an anthropologist, told Discovery News. =

“Condemi is the CNRS research director at the University of Ai-Marseille. She and her colleagues studied the remains via DNA analysis and 3D imaging. They then compared those results with the same features from Homo sapiens. The genetic analysis shows that the individual’s mitochondrial DNA is Neanderthal. Since this DNA is transmitted from a mother to her child, the researchers conclude that it was a “female Neanderthal who mated with male Homo sapiens.” =

“By the time modern humans arrived in the area, the Neanderthals had already established their own culture, Mousterian, which lasted some 200,000 years. Numerous flint tools, such as axes and spear points, have been associated with the Mousterian. The artifacts are typically found in rock shelters, such as the Riparo di Mezzena, and caves throughout Europe. =

“The researchers found that, although the hybridization between the two hominin species likely took place, the Neanderthals continued to uphold their own cultural traditions. That's an intriguing clue, because it suggests that the two populations did not simply meet, mate and merge into a single group. As Condemi and her colleagues wrote, the mandible supports the theory of "a slow process of replacement of Neanderthals by the invading modern human populations, as well as additional evidence of the upholding of the Neanderthals' cultural identity.” =

“Prior fossil finds indicate that modern humans were living in a southern Italy cave as early as 45,000 years ago. Modern humans and Neanderthals therefore lived in roughly the same regions for thousands of years, but the new human arrivals, from the Neanderthal perspective, might not have been welcome, and for good reason. The research team hints that the modern humans may have raped female Neanderthals, bringing to mind modern cases of "ethnic cleansing." Ian Tattersall is one of the world’s leading experts on Neanderthals and the human fossil record. He is a paleoanthropologist and a curator emeritus at the American Museum of Natural History. Tattersall told Discovery News that the hypothesis, presented in the new paper, “is very intriguing and one that invites more research.” =

Did Human Women Contribute to Neanderthal Genomes over 200,000 Years Ago?

Homo sapien on the right, Neanderthal on the left

A Neanderthal mitochondrial genome published in 2017 from a femur that was excavated in 1937 from the Hohlenstein-Stadel (HST) cave site in southwestern Germany supports the hypothesis that interbreeding occurred among African hominins 200,000 years ago. Jennifer Raff wrote in The Guardian: “Reconstructing past population history accurately requires temporal and geographic diversity in sampling. It’s tremendously important. Someday we will have so many archaic genomes sequenced that a new one isn’t a big deal and doesn’t add very much to the panoply. But that day isn’t here yet, and so the recovery of genetic data from each new individual has the potential to make a huge difference in how we understand evolutionary history. This is the case with the new HST Neanderthal mitochondrial genome, which is strikingly different to all others sequenced thus far – so much so that it nearly doubles the known genetic diversity of Neanderthal populations. [Source: Jennifer Raff, The Guardian, July 18, 2017. Raff is a geneticist who specialises in the study of human variation among contemporary and ancient populations |=|

“The HST genome may resolve a longstanding point of confusion regarding the evolutionary relationships between modern humans, Neanderthals, and Denisovans. We actually get different histories for the three groups depending on whether we analyze their mitochondrial (maternally inherited) or nuclear (bi-parentally inherited) genomes. Nuclear DNA indicates that Neanderthals and Denisovans were more closely related to one another than to humans, and that the three groups last shared a common ancestor sometime between 765-550,000 years ago. Neanderthals and Denisovans diverged later (probably by 430,000 years ago) into genetically and geographically distinct groups. |=|

“However, mitochondrial DNA (inherited exclusively maternally) shows a different pattern: humans and Neanderthals appear to be more closely related to each other, and the Denisovans are a more distant cousin group. The nuclear DNA story is most likely the correct one, as nuclear genomes give us a much more robust glimpse into the past by allowing us to look at the independent histories of thousands of genetic markers. But why does the mitochondrial DNA disagree? |=|

“One explanation for these results is that Neanderthal mitochondrial genomes may actually derive from gene flow with another group of hominins from Africa, ancestral or closely related to modern humans, whose maternal lineages effectively replaced the older Denisovan-like lineages. Indeed, the 430,000 year old hominins from the Sima de los Huesos site in Spain, who physically resemble the ancestors of Neanderthals, have early Neanderthal-like nuclear genomes but more Denisovan-like mitochondrial genomes, suggesting that the early Neanderthal populations had maternal lineages very unlike those found in later populations. If there was gene flow into Neanderthal population from female hominins from Africa, it’s possible that there could have been a complete replacement of the maternal lineages in this population without obscuring the histories reflected in the nuclear genome. |=|

“The HST genome has now provided a good chance to test this hypothesis, because it is quite old – about 124,000 years, according to an estimate based on the molecular clock (in contrast to most other published Neanderthal genomes, which are much more recent). HST’s mitochondrial lineage is distinct from all other Neanderthal mitochondrial genomes sequenced thus far, and is basal (very ancient) relative to them. Using this new mitochondrial genome in their analyses, researchers found it was indeed plausible that some hominins may have migrated out of Africa and interbred with Neanderthals sometime between 413,000 and 270,000 years ago, perhaps in the Middle East. This event would have significantly predated the major Out-of-Africa human migration, which is currently thought to have occurred around 75,000 years ago. There is other evidence to suggest that early human populations were much more mobile than we had previously thought, such as the recent classification of hominin fossils in Morocco dating to 300,000 years ago as early “pre-modern” H. sapiens. These data may give indirect support for early small-scale migrations before the major spread of human populations out of Africa.

“The HST mitochondrial genome adds more important details to our ever-expanding understanding of hominin evolution and allows us to be a bit more confident in one model that resolves seemingly contradictory genetic results. While nuclear DNA from the HST fossil would tell us even more, unfortunately the endogenous Neanderthal DNA in the fossil is not well preserved. Of the ~240,000 unique sequence reads recovered from the femur, only about 1,110 were from the Neanderthal. The rest were from other organisms such as soil bacteria and modern humans. These high contamination and low endogenous DNA levels mean that it will be difficult to obtain a nuclear genome from this bone. |=|

“I feel like every time I write about ancient DNA it’s an exercise in expectation lowering, since so few remains ever yield their genetic secrets. So here I want to emphasize that what we have learned about our histories from this single fossil really is remarkable. The brand new editions of textbooks that many of us are planning on using for our courses next term are already completely out of date, and I’m hopeful there are even more surprises to come in the near future. I’m sure I speak for the whole biological anthropology community when I say that we couldn’t be happier about the pace of discoveries these days, even if it does feel overwhelming.” |=|

Humans and Neanderthals Broke Up After Humans Discovered Eurasia

It appears the relationship between Neanderthals and modern humans was a short one. The limited amount of data related to the issue seems to suggest the two species interbred the first time and the last time around the time modern humans with advanced stone tools expanded out of Africa in to Europe and Asia. The last sex between Neanderthals and modern humans likely occurred as recently as 47,000 years ago, researchers say. [Source: Charles Q. Choi, Live Science, October 4, 2012 ^-^]

In 2010, scientists completed the first sequence of the Neanderthal genome using DNA extracted from fossils. Charles Q. Choi wrote in Live Science: “The Neanderthal genome revealed that people outside Africa share more genetic variants with Neanderthals than Africans do. One possible explanation is that modern humans mixed with Neanderthals after the modern lineage began appearing outside Africa at least 100,000 years ago. Another, more complex scenario is that an African group ancestral to both Neanderthals and certain modern human populations genetically diverged from other Africans beginning about 230,000 years ago. This group then stayed genetically distinct until it eventually left Africa. ^-^

“To shed light on why Neanderthals appear most closely related to people outside Africa, researchers looked at similar DNA chunks in European and Neanderthal genomes. When sperm and egg cells are created, the strands of DNA within them break and rejoin to form new combinations of genetic material. This "recombination" decreases the length of the chunks in each generation. By comparing lengths, "we can estimate when the two populations last shared genes," explained researcher Sriram Sankararaman, a statistical geneticist at Harvard Medical School. ^-^

The research team estimates modern humans and Neanderthals last exchanged genes between 37,000 and 86,000 years ago, and most likely 47,000 to 65,000 years ago. This is well after modern humans began expanding outside Africa, but potentially before they started spreading across Eurasia. These findings suggest modern humans last shared ancestors with Neanderthals during the period known as the Upper Paleolithic. Back then, modern humans had begun using relatively advanced stone tools, such as knife blades, spear points, and engraving and drilling implements. "I think we will be able to get new insights on how modern humans adapted as they occupied new regions," Sankararaman told LiveScience. "It shows the power of genetic data to learn about historical events." ^-^

“Future research will explore other prehistoric interbreeding events, such as the apparent mixing between ancestors of modern Papuans and the recently unearthed extinct human lineage known as the Denisovans. "There are technical challenges here," Sankararaman said. "Papuans have had gene flow from Neanderthals and from Denisovans. That makes it challenging to tease their contributions apart." The scientists detailed their findings online Oct. 4 in the journal PLoS Genetics.”

Denny, the Neanderthal-Denisovan Love Child

Denny was an inter-species love child, with a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father, scientists reported in the journal Nature. Nicknamed by Oxford University scientists, Denisova 11 — her official name — was at least 13 when she died, for reasons unknown. "There was earlier evidence of interbreeding between different hominin, or early human, groups," said lead author Vivian Slon, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. "But this is the first time that we have found a direct, first-generation offspring," she told AFP. [Source: Marlowe Hood, AFP, August 23, 2018 \=/]

Marlowe Hood of AFP wrote: “Denny's surprising pedigree was unlocked from a bone fragment unearthed in 2012 by Russian archeologists at the Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. Analysis of the bone's DNA left no doubt: the chromosomes were a 50-50 mix of Neanderthal and Denisovan. "I initially thought that they must have screwed up in the lab," said senior author and Max Planck Institute professor Svante Paabo, who identified the first Denisovan a decade ago at the same site. Worldwide, fewer than two dozen early human genomes from before 40,000 years ago — Neanderthal, Denisovan, Homo sapiens — have been sequenced, and the chances of stumbling on a half-and-half hybrid seemed vanishingly small. \=/

“Or not. "The very fact that we found this individual of mixed Neanderthal and Denisovan origins suggests that they interbred much more often than we thought," said Slon. Paabo agreed: "They must have quite commonly had kids together, otherwise we wouldn't have been this lucky." A 40,000 year-old Homo sapiens with a Neanderthal ancestor a few generations back, recently found in Romania, also bolsters this notion. But the most compelling evidence that inter-species hanky-panky in Late Pleistocene Eurasia may not have been that rare lies in the genes of contemporary humans...Neanderthals and Denisovans might have intermingled even more but for the fact that the former settled mostly in Europe, and the latter in central and East Asia, the researchers speculated.” \=/

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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