Remains of a Neanderthal woman who lived around 100,000 years ago in the Altai Mountains of Siberia reveal that human and Neanderthals mated much earlier than previously thought.This last point is hotly contested. The prevailing wisdom is that they were two different species that could interbreed when they came into contact but had their own stable genomes. If the time of contact can be stretched from 100 kya to 50 kya, though, it lends more credence to the ideas that their lifestyles were largely compatible, especially given the new information from Schöningen, which seems to indicate complex patterns of subsistence emerging as early as 300 kya. Oddly, missing from the story is that the researchers suggest that these hybridizations may have occurred in the ancestors of the Neandertals in Southwest Asia, not northern Europe. This would one of the natural corridors for people coming out of Africa, although recent research has focused on the Arabian peninsula for that migration.
One or more of her relatives were actually humans, a new study shows.
It has been known that Neanderthals contributed DNA to modern humans, so people today of European and Asian descent retain Neanderthal DNA in their genomes, but the Neanderthal woman offers the first evidence that gene flow from interbreeding went from modern humans into Neanderthals as well.
The study, published in the journal Nature1, "is also the first to provide genetic evidence of modern humans outside Africa as early as 100,000 years ago," Sergi Castellano, who co-led the study and is a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, told Discovery News.
Given the now closely intertwined histories of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, Castellano added that "it is better to refer to Neanderthals and modern humans as two different human groups, one archaic and one modern, and not different species."
1Kuhlwilm, Martin, Gronau, Ilan, Hubisz, Melissa J., de Filippo, Cesare, Prado-Martinez, Javier, Kircher, Martin, Fu, Qiaomei, Burbano, Hernán A., Lalueza-Fox, Carles, de la Rasilla, Marco, Rosas, Antonio, Rudan, Pavao, Brajkovic, Dejana, Kucan, Željko, Gušic, Ivan, Marques-Bonet, Tomas, Andrés, Aida M., Viola, Bence, Pääbo, Svante, Meyer, Matthias, Siepel, Adam, & Castellano, Sergi. (2016). Ancient gene flow from early modern humans into Eastern Neanderthals. Nature, 530(7591), 429-433.