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Humans today could be part Neanderthal, according to a new study that found our ancestors interbred with an extinct hominid species some millennia ago.
Neanderthals walked the Earth between about 130,000 and 30,000 years ago. While they co-existed with modern humans for a while, eventually they went extinct and we didn't. There has been intense scientific debate over how similar the two species were, and whether they might have mated with each other.
Last week at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Albuquerque, N.M., Hunley and colleagues presented the results of a new study that found evidence for interbreeding between modern humans and some other extinct ancient human species – either Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) or another group such as Homo heidelbergensis. The research was first reported by NatureNews.
The researchers looked at DNA samples from humans living today, and found signs of leftover Neanderthal genes introduced from this interbreeding. They looked at genetic data from almost 2,000 people around the world, and calculated how much genetic variation existed between samples. The results indicate that some extinct group of hominids mixed their genes with ours at two points in history, Hunley said.
One period of interbreeding probably occurred shortly after Homo sapiens migrated out of Africa around 60,000 years ago. The researchers found an excess of genetic diversity in all modern people except Africans, suggesting that the influx of Neanderthal-like DNA came after the exodus from Africa.
A second period of interbreeding is suggested by the fact that the researchers measured even more genetic diversity among people of Oceanic descent – people from Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and other Pacific islands.
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