Neanderthals and Homo sapiens interbred in ancient Europe, a new study reveals. Genetic material from a human being who lived 40,000 years ago was examined, revealing the remains to be from a person just a few generations removed from a Neanderthal ancestor.
The Oase individual with Neanderthal relatives was found in the land now known as Romania in 2002. Archaeologists have recovered just a mandible of the ancient human from the Oase cave, located in the southwestern portion of that nation.
Paleontologists have long known that Homo sapiens and Neanderthals bred with each other roughly 55,000 years ago, likely in the Middle East. However, this new finding pushes up the date of these interbreeding sessions by 150 centuries. This was a time when genetically-modern humans first migrated into Northern Europe.
The genetic codes of modern people living in Europe and Asia today still contains between one and three percent of Neanderthal DNA. The genetic information found in the individual recovered in Romania contains between five and 11 percent of genetic information from Neanderthals. This is the greatest percentage of Neanderthal DNA ever seen in a genetically-modern human being. This ratio suggests the Oase individual was just four to six generations removed from a Neanderthal.
This shows that, at least in some cases, some of the first Homo sapiens to migrate into Europe mated with Neanderthals.
"Interestingly, the Oase individual does not seem to have any direct descendants in Europe today. It may be that he was part of an early migration of modern humans to Europe that interacted closely with Neandertals but eventually became extinct," David Reich of Harvard Medical School, said.
After the mandible was discovered, it was studied by teams of researchers from around the globe. The genetic information of DNA breaks down over centuries, but modern analysis techniques made it possible to read the code.
People living in Sub-Saharan Africa are the only modern humans who do not possess any Neanderthal DNA in their genetic code.
Neanderthals thrived in Europe about 350,000 years ago and disappeared roughly 39,000 years before our own time. Paleontologists have long debated whether they were wiped out by warfare with modern humans or were absorbed through mating.
"Modern humans arrive in Europe after 43,000 years ago, and Neanderthals went extinct by 39,000 years ago," Reich said.
The fact that the Oase individual did not leave any direct human descendants suggests that modern humans arrived in Europe during several waves of migrations. This finding is also the first to show that interbreeding between humans and Neanderthals took place outside the Middle East.