The jawbone of an early modern human has suggested that we were quite cozy with our cousin the Neanderthal, and pretty early in our history.
The jawbone of this human suggests he is one of our earliest ancestors. Whoever he was, he lived in what is now Romania between 42,000 and 37,000 years ago — modern humans showed up in Europe between 45,000 and 35,000 years ago, LiveScience reported.
The jawbone was from a man now called Oase 1. What is left of his remains were found in Peștera cu Oase, or “Cave with Bones,” in 2002.
Scientists always thought Oase’s jawbone resembled a Neanderthal, enough to make it a hybrid between a Neanderthal and Homo sapien, National Geographic added. These suspicions were confirmed only recently, when scientists were finally able to extract a tiny fraction of DNA from his jawbone for analysis and sequencing.
“I could hardly believe that we were lucky enough to hit upon an individual like this,” said study co-author Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
The DNA in this individual’s jawbone was found to be 6 to 9.4 percent Neanderthal. Modern humans outside Sub-Saharan Africa have a bit of Neanderthal genes in them, too, but only to the tune of 1 to 3 percent, Reuters added.
The percentage of pure Neanderthal genes in this jawbone is a big deal because it means Oase’s ancestors interbred only a handful of generations back — about 200 years.
“The great breakthrough here is the ability to say ‘this specific person had a Neanderthal great-great-grandfather.’ That puts a human timescale on it,” said Oxford’s Tom Higham.
Scientists still don’t know where this sexual rendezvous took place, or how often Neanderthals and humans sped off to a private cave for some intimacy. Though it’s likely these relationships continued as both species populated Europe, Oase’s ancestors interbred before that migration, and the proximity of the relation suggests it kept going as humans entered the Near East later on.
Oase and his jawbone didn’t leave a genetic impression on Europe, though, Reuters added. His line, a hunter-gather “pioneer” population, lived in Europe, but not long enough to add their genes to the modern-day pool. This suggests that different human lineages have called the continent home.
Interbreeding, which this jawbone suggests took place, can unravel the mystery of how humans migrated across the world and the time we spent living side by side with our cousins. As the Inquisitr recently reported, Kennewick Man here in the U.S. is answering his own questions about our evolution.
But these findings could also answer another enduring mystery — why the Neanderthal simply disappeared after humans arrived 40,000 years ago, despite obvious intelligence. Scientists have learned that the robust species were pretty smart cookies, as evidenced by their hunting methods, fire use, and suggestions of a spoken language and use of symbolic objects.
[Photos Courtesy Twitter]