Homo Neanderthalis was the last surviving hominid besides modern humans, homo sapiens sapiens. Noting that Neanderthals’ brain cavities were larger than our own, many paleontologists and anthropologists argue their intelligence was comparable to our own. Given the overlap between both genetic compatibility and shared habitat, there has always been intense debate as to whether or not the two human subspecies ever mated; now, the evidence it tilting towards “yes.” Svante Pääbo, a palaeogeneticist at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, heads a team which is sequencing the Neanderthal genome. Via New Scientist:
Any human whose ancestral group developed outside Africa has a little Neanderthal in them – between 1 and 4 per cent of their genome, Pääbo’s team estimates. In other words, humans and Neanderthals had sex and had hybrid offspring. A small amount of that genetic mingling survives in “non-Africans” today: Neanderthals didn’t live in Africa, which is why sub-Saharan African populations have no trace of Neanderthal DNA.
It’s impossible to know how often humans invited Neanderthals back to their cave (and vice versa), but the genome data offers some intriguing details.
“It must have been at least 45,000 years ago,” says David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School who was involved in the project. That’s because all non-Africans – be they from France, China or Papua New Guinea – share the same amount of Neanderthal DNA, suggesting that interbreeding occurred before those populations split. The timing makes the Middle East the likeliest place where humans leaving Africa and resident Neanderthals did the deed.
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