Neanderthals’ history is as complicated as ours

Enlarge / The upper and lower jawbones of a juvenile Neanderthal girl who lived in Belgium around 127,000 years ago. (credit: Peyrégne et al. 2019)

DNA preserved in ancient bones and teeth has recently helped scientists reconstruct how groups of ancient humans migrated and mingled, and a new study now does the same thing for Neanderthals. Neanderthals lived in Eurasia for around 400,000 years, and it would be a huge stretch to assume they spent all that time as one big homogeneous population or that different groups of Neanderthals never migrated and mixed.

Thanks to ancient DNA, we can now begin to see how Neanderthal groups moved around Eurasia long before Homo sapiens entered the mix.

Neanderthals on the move

Evolutionary geneticist Stéphane Peyrégne and his colleagues recently sequenced DNA from two Neanderthals, both just over 120,000 years old. One set of DNA comes from the upper jaw of a Neanderthal woman from Scladina Cave in Belgium (we’ll call her Scladina), and the other comes from the thighbone of a Neanderthal man from Hohlenstein-Stadel Cave in Germany (HST for short). Both are around the same age as the Altai Neanderthal, a fossil from the famous Denisova Cave in Siberia.

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