Ancient Romanian jawbone sheds light on Neanderthal interbreeding

Mon Jun 22, 2015 12:45pm EDT
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By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - You may not know it, but you probably have some Neanderthal in you. For people around the world, except sub-Saharan Africans, about 1 to 3 percent of their DNA comes from Neanderthals, our close cousins who disappeared roughly 39,000 years ago.

Scientists said on Monday a jawbone unearthed in Romania, of a man who lived about 40,000 years ago, boasts the most Neanderthal ancestry ever seen in a member of our species.

The finding that also indicates that interbreeding with Neanderthals occurred much more recently than previously known.

"We show that one of the very first modern humans that is 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.

"He carries more Neanderthal DNA than any other present-day or ancient modern human seen to date."

Harvard Medical School geneticist David Reich said 6 to 9 percent of this individual's genome derived from a Neanderthal ancestor.

The 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, Pääbo said.

Previous research suggested this interbreeding occurred 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, before our species, arising in Africa, trekked into Europe, Asia and beyond.   Continued...

A jawbone unearthed in Romania of a man who lived about 40,000 years ago is shown in this handout photo provided by Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany June 21, 2015. REUTERS/MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology/Paabo/Handout via Reuters