Neandertals had evolutionary stamina. An unbroken genetic line of the jut-jawed, powerfully built human relatives inhabited Europe for at least 80,000 years until dying out around 40,000 years ago, scientists say.
DNA extracted from fossils of two roughly 120,000-year-old European Neandertals displays closer genetic links to 40,000-year-old European Neandertals than to a Siberian Neandertal who also lived around 120,000 years ago, say paleogeneticist Stéphane Peyrégne and colleagues. Later Neandertals in Europe and western Asia trace at least part of their ancestry back to Neandertals represented by the newly isolated DNA, the researchers conclude online June 26 in Science Advances.
Evidence of European Neandertals genetic endurance starting about 120,000 years ago “fits nicely in the fossil record,” says paleogeneticist Carles Lalueza-Fox of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona, who did not participate in the new study. Ages of several early European Neandertal fossils fall at or near 120,000 years ago, he says.
Until now, researchers had Neandertal fossils, but no DNA, from more than around 100,000 years ago, keeping genetic ties among early Neandertals a mystery. Peyrégne, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and his colleagues obtained the DNA from an adult Neandertals upper-leg bone unearthed in Germanys Hohlenstein-Stadel Cave and from a Neandertal childs upper jaw and teeth recovered in Belgiums Scladina Cave.
The new findings help make sense of previous discoveries at Siberias Denisova Cave, Peyrégne says. Scientists knew that a 90,000-year-old individual from the cave who had one Neandertal parent and one Denisovan parent (SN: 9/15/18, p. 9) possessed closer genetic ties to later European Neandertals than to a 120,000-year-old Neandertal from the same Siberian site. Given the new findings, some European Neandertals must have migrated east and at least partly replaced Neandertals already living in Siberia between 120,000 and 90,000 years ago, Peyrégne suspects.