Modern humans’ interbreeding with Neanderthals occurred much more recently than previously thought, according to a new study publish in the journal Nature. Past studies have showed that our ancestors interbred with Neanderthals about 55,000 years ago in the Middle-East when humans were first leaving Africa. But the latest study shows interbreeding between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals about 40,000 years ago.
Present-day Europeans have 2-4% Neanderthal genome
Researchers led by Dr. David Reich of the Harvard Medical School analyzed DNA of a lower jawbone found in Pe?tera cu Oase, Romania in 2002. The analysis revealed that the ancient man more closely resembled Neanderthals than any other modern human ever analyzed. About 7-9% of the Pe?tera cu Oase man’s genome was from Neanderthals. Present-day Europeans have 2% to 4% Neanderthal genome.
The large-browed Neanderthals lived across Europe and Asia from about 350,000 years ago to 39,000 years ago. Their disappearance coincides with the arrival of modern Homo sapiens. The jawbone fossil suggested that the ancient individual had a Neanderthal ancestor just four to six generations back. Qiaomei Fu of the Max Planck Institute and co-author of the study, said that modern humans mixed with Neanderthals not only in the Middle-East, but also in Europe.
Modern humans, Neanderthals co-existed for about 5,000 years
Though the lower jawbone fossil was recovered in 2002, its analysis was made possible only recently, thanks to advances in DNA testing methods. Researchers said the morphology of the jawbone was generally modern, but in many aspects it was consistent with Neanderthal ancestry. Radiocarbon dating of fossils from various sites across Europe suggests that Neanderthals and humans co-existed in Europe for about 5,000 years.
Findings of the study are in line with a previous research by scientists at the Washington University in St Louis, who said that the jawbone and its teeth had features of Neanderthal as well as modern humans. Researchers say Neanderthal was an intelligence species, as evident by their likely use of spoken language, use of fire, and complex hunting methods.