The conclusions are similar to recent research on the oldest modern human genome yet described, with both papers claiming that human-Neanderthal interbreeding was well under way as of 37,000 years ago. The difference in this latest paper is that researchers found strings of Neanderthal genome that have disappeared from modern human populations.
Ancient Russian Skeleton’s DNA: The results
The skeleton, which is known as K-14, was found in European Russia at a site called Kostenki-Borshchevo, to the north of the Black Sea. The skeleton only revealed a rough picture of its DNA, which means there will likely be a large number of errors and gaps. Consequently results are slightly more tenuous than other work, but they remain unbiased.
The researchers have in fact warned against trying to spot specific affinities between the skeleton, other ancient skeletons found across the world, and modern populations.
“Instead of inferring a few discrete migration events from Asia into Europe,” the authors write, “we now see evidence that humans in Western Eurasia formed a large meta-population with gene flow in multiple directions occurring repeatedly and perhaps continuously.”
The skeleton also allowed scientists to estimate when intermingling between humans and Neanderthals began. The percentage of Neanderthal DNA was similar in modern populations and K-14. However the length of the average stretch of Neanderthal DNA was longer, information which has enabled the scientists to predict that interbreeding began 54,000 years ago.
A competitive field
In conjunction with last week’s paper on a skeleton found in Siberia, the research on K-14 goes to show that the sequencing of ancient genomes is an area with a lot of competition. Different groups of researchers are rushing to get their results released before the accumulation of similar research renders them unworthy of column inches.
Although those scientists who are yet to publish their results may not receive as much attention in the short term, they can console themselves with the fact that the collection of such data will inform our knowledge of ancient genomes for years to come.