Oldest DNA from a Homo sapiens reveals surprisingly recent Neanderthal ancestry
Scientists have sequenced the oldest Homo sapiens DNA on record, showing that many of Europe’s first humans had Neanderthals in their family trees. Yet these individuals are not related to later Europeans, according to two genome studies of remains dating back more than 45,000 years from caves in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic1,2.
The research adds to growing evidence that modern humans mixed regularly with Neanderthals and other extinct relatives, says Viviane Slon, a palaeogeneticist at the University of Tel Aviv in Israel. “It’s different times, different places, and it happens again and again.”
The genetic history of the earliest humans in Europe and Asia has been blurred. Although researchers have sequenced DNA from Neanderthals and other extinct human relatives dating as far back as 430,000 years, there is a scarcity of genetic information from the period between around 47,000 and 40,000 years ago, known as the Initial Upper Palaeolithic, and no Homo sapiens DNA at all from before this period. Genomes belonging to humans from Siberia and Romania showed no connection to later waves of Europeans, but a 40,000-year-old individual from China is a partial ancestor of modern East Asian people.