North American mastodons and mammoths, new study


This video from the USA is about mastodons and mammoths.

From LiveScience:

Mammoths and Mastodons of the Ohio Valley Were Homebodies

By Laura Geggel, Staff Writer | July 28, 2014 01:55pm ET

People may imagine mammoths and mastodons as enormous beasts that roamed the vast North American continent more than 10,000 years ago. But the mammoths and mastodons of present-day southwestern Ohio and northwestern Kentucky were homebodies that tended to stay in one area, a new study finds.

The enamel on the animals’ molars gave researchers clues as to where the mammoths and mastodons lived throughout their lives and what they ate. They discovered that mammoths ate grasses and sedges, whereas mastodons preferred leaves from trees or shrubs. Mammoths favored areas near retreating ice sheets, where grasses were plentiful, and mastodons fed near forested spaces, the researchers said.

“I suspect that this was a pretty nice place to live, relatively speaking,” lead researcher Brooke Crowley, an assistant professor of geology and anthropology at the University of Cincinnati, said in a statement. “Our data suggest that animals probably had what they needed to survive here year-round.” [Image Gallery: Stunning Mammoth Unearthed]

Both animals, now extinct, likely came to North America across the Bering Strait land bridge that connected Alaska to Russia when sea levels were lower than they are today, Crowley told Live Science in an email.

Mammoths — which had teeth ideal for grinding grasses, as well as curved tusks and humped heads — are more closely related to elephants than mastodons are, Crowley said. Mammoths came to North America during the mid-Pleistocene Epoch, about 1 million years ago, she added.

Mastodons arrived much earlier. They had spread across America by the Pliocene Epoch, around 5 million years ago. Their molars were shaped to crush plants, such as leaves and woody stems, and they had long, straight tusks that could grow up to 16 feet (4.9 meters) long, Crowley said.

In the study, the researchers looked at the remnants of carbon, oxygen and strontium, a naturally occurring metal, in the enamel of molars from eight mammoths and four mastodons that lived in Ohio and Kentucky about 20,000 years ago.

The carbon analysis helped researchers learn about the animals’ diet, whereas the traces of oxygen told them about the general climate at the time. Strontium provides insights into how much the animal traveled as their molars developed. Researchers can look at the type of strontium within the enamel and determine where it came from by comparing it to local samples of strontium in the environment.

“Strontium reflects the bedrock geology of a location,” Crowley said. This means that if a local animal has traces of strontium in its tooth, researchers can deduce where that type of strontium came from in the area. “If an animal grows its tooth in one place and then moves elsewhere, the strontium in its tooth is going to reflect where it came from, not where it died,” she said.

Surprisingly, the researchers said, the strontium in the mammoth and mastodon teeth matched local water samples in 11 of the 12 mammals. Only one mastodon appeared to have traveled from another area before settling in the Ohio Valley.

The findings, however, only apply to the animals that lived in that region. “A mammoth in Florida did not behave the same as one in New York, Wyoming, California, Mexico or Ohio,” Crowley said.

The study was published July 16 in the journal Boreas.

Neanderthals ate vegetables, new research says


This video is called Neanderthals Decoded (full documentary).

From PLOS One:

The Neanderthal Meal: A New Perspective Using Faecal Biomarkers

Ainara Sistiaga, Carolina Mallol, Bertila Galván, Roger Everett Summons

Published: June 25, 2014

Abstract

Neanderthal dietary reconstructions have, to date, been based on indirect evidence and may underestimate the significance of plants as a food source. While zooarchaeological and stable isotope data have conveyed an image of Neanderthals as largely carnivorous, studies on dental calculus and scattered palaeobotanical evidence suggest some degree of contribution of plants to their diet.

However, both views remain plausible and there is no categorical indication of an omnivorous diet.

Here we present direct evidence of Neanderthal diet using faecal biomarkers, a valuable analytical tool for identifying dietary provenance. Our gas chromatography-mass spectrometry results from El Salt (Spain), a Middle Palaeolithic site dating to ca. 50,000 yr. BP, represents the oldest positive identification of human faecal matter. We show that Neanderthals, like anatomically modern humans, have a high rate of conversion of cholesterol to coprostanol related to the presence of required bacteria in their guts.

Analysis of five sediment samples from different occupation floors suggests that Neanderthals predominantly consumed meat, as indicated by high coprostanol proportions, but also had significant plant intake, as shown by the presence of 5β-stigmastanol. This study highlights the applicability of the biomarker approach in Pleistocene contexts as a provider of direct palaeodietary information and supports the opportunity for further research into cholesterol metabolism throughout human evolution.

Ice age vole teeth discovery on Texel island


Ice age vole teeth discovered on Texel

Translated from Ecomare museum on Texel island in the Netherlands:

08-06-14

Midas found this special teeth on the Texel beach

A water vole molar from perhaps more than half a million years old and a younger one, possibly two hundred thousand years old! These are the main components of the extraordinary discovery which the 13-year-old Midas Verbeek made last month, going to Ecomare with it. Just above the tide line at beach post 17 he found some small molars and teeth. Because such small molars are difficult to name mouse molar specialist Francine Dieleman was told about it. She had her first research results last week.

Oldest mice

The discovery by Midas, she discovered, included vole molars from the last ice age, incisors of voles, a tail vertebra of a water vole, a strange skull fragment, fish vertebrae and teeth. Francine Dieleman has named them provisionally and will continue to investigate them further still. She will publish about the molars in a specialist magazine. Such old rodents had in fact never before been found in the Wadden Sea area. The mice molar specialist works at Naturalis museum in Leiden.

Steppe bison discovery on Texel island


This video says about itself:

BBC Monsters We Met – 1 of 3 – The Eternal Frontier

Episode 1: Eternal Frontier (Alaska, United States, North America, 14,000 years ago) Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) American Lion (Panthera leo atrox) (live-acted by a African Lioness) Homotherium (Scimitar-tooth Cat) Smilodon (Saber-tooth Cat) Megalonyx (Jefferson’s Ground Sloth) Camelops (Giant Camel) (live-acted by a Dromedary Camel) Arctodus (Short-Faced Bear) American mastodon (Mammut americanum) Steppe Bison (live-acted by an American Bison) Hagerman Horse (live-acted by a Grevy’s Zebra) American Cheetah (live-acted by a Snow Leopard) Wild horse (live-acted by a Przewalski’s Horse) Grey Wolf (live-acted) American Bison (live-acted) Andean Condor (live-acted) Brown Bear (live-acted) Muskox (live-acted) Caribou (live-acted) Saiga (live-acted) California Condor (live-acted) Dall Sheep (live-acted) … Wolverine (live-acted).

Steppe bison are an extinct species, ancestral to both today’s American bison and European bison.

Recently, a former employee of Ecomare museum found a steppe bison astralagus bone in the dunes of Texel island. Probably, it had landed there from the North Sea; which was land when steppe bison were still alive.

The discoverer gave the bone to Ecomare.

Wildlife biologists recently scanning photographs taken by a trail camera in the Uinta Mountains last winter, saw something never before captured in Utah: the first official photographs of a wolverine: here.

Leaked Document: Scientists Ordered to Scrap Plan to Protect Wolverines: here.

Siberian origin of native Americans, new research


This video says about itself:

New World’s Oldest Human Skeleton Found in Mexico

16 May 2014

Scientists have found what they believe is the oldest nearly complete, genetically intact human skeleton in the Americas within a flooded cave in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.

From Science:

16 May 2014

Paleoanthropology

Bones From a Watery ‘Black Hole’ Confirm First American Origins

Michael Balter

Most researchers agree that the earliest Americans came over from Asia via the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska, beginning at least 15,000 years ago. But many have long puzzled over findings that some of the earliest known skeletons—with long skulls and prominent foreheads—do not resemble today’s Native Americans, who tend to have rounder skulls and flatter faces. Some have even suggested that at least two migrations into the Americas were involved, one earlier and one later.

But the discovery of a nearly 13,000-year-old teenage girl in an underwater cave in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula argues against that hypothesis. The girl had the skull features of older skeletons, but the genetic profile of some of today’s Native Americans—suggesting that the anatomical differences were the result of evolutionary changes after the first Americans left Asia, rather than evidence of separate ancestry.

Also from Science:

Late Pleistocene Human Skeleton and mtDNA Link Paleoamericans and Modern Native Americans

Abstract

Because of differences in craniofacial morphology and dentition between the earliest American skeletons and modern Native Americans, separate origins have been postulated for them, despite genetic evidence to the contrary. We describe a near-complete human skeleton with an intact cranium and preserved DNA found with extinct fauna in a submerged cave on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. This skeleton dates to between 13,000 and 12,000 calendar years ago and has Paleoamerican craniofacial characteristics and a Beringian-derived mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplogroup (D1). Thus, the differences between Paleoamericans and Native Americans probably resulted from in situ evolution rather than separate ancestry.

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Ancient underwater forest discovery in Gulf of Mexico


This video from the USA is called Alabama‘s Underwater Forest.

From the Houston Chronicle in the USA:

Divers collecting funds to film ancient, hidden forest discovered in Gulf

By Carol Christian

April 17, 2014 | Updated: April 18, 2014 1:12am

A team of scuba divers is trying to raise $15,000 to make a documentary about a hidden, ancient underwater forest in the Gulf of Mexico.

To enlist the public’s help, they turned to Kickstarter.com, a popular platform for crowd-source fundraising.

By early Thursday afternoon, just one week into the campaign, they had raised more than $10,000. Under Kickstarter rules, they must meet their goal by their own deadline — in this case May 1 — or they get nothing.

The forest is a half-mile-square area of 50,000-year-old cypress stumps perfectly preserved under the ocean floor off the coast of Alabama. When the wood is cut, it has a “cypressy” smell, and sap oozes out of it, Raines said.

“That’s 50,000-year-old sap coming out of these trees,” said team member Ben Raines, a former reporter for the Mobile Press Reporter who is now executive director of the Weeks Bay Foundation in Fairhope, Ala.

Rewards offered by the team to Kickstarter donors range from access to high resolution photos, for a $10 contribution, to a chance to dive at the site, for a $2,000 pledge.

“We got our first taker today,” Raines said Thursday of the $2,000 donation.

Money raised beyond the goal will allow the team to do more filming and prepare special graphics, Raines said.

Others behind the documentary proposal are Chas Broughton, owner of Underwater Works in Fairhope, Ala., and Eric Lowe, the photographer for above-water shots. Raines is the underwater photographer.

The forest’s existence has generated intense interest around the world since its discovery was announced a couple years ago, Raines said.

Its exact location, about 15 miles off the coast, has been kept secret to prevent harmful disruption to the site, including commercial salvaging of the stumps, he said.

The Weeks Bay Foundation is working on a federal designation as a marine sanctuary for the ancient forest that divers have described as a “magical fairy land,” Raines said.

Those who have seen it now believe the forest was uncovered in September 2004, when Hurricane Ivan hit Alabama after pounding the Caribbean, Raines said.

“Ivan had 90-foot waves associated with it, the largest waves ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico,” he said. “We think they scoured the bottom. Waves have as much power underwater as above the water.”

Now that the cypress stumps have been exposed to oxygen, they are starting to decay but fortunately, Raines said, cypress wood decays slowly.

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Ice Age fossils discovery in Los Angeles


This video from the USA says about itself:

20 Sep 2010

A utility company preparing to build a new substation southeast of Los Angeles has stumbled on a trove of fossils dating back 1.4 million years. The cache contains nearly 1,500 fossils, including an ancestor of the saber-toothed tiger.

From USA Today:

Ice Age fossils discovered in L.A. subway construction

10:07 a.m. EST March 7, 2014

An exploratory dig for Los Angeles’ subway extension project has uncovered Ice Age fossils.

The discoveries so far have included geoducks (large clams), sand dollars and digger pine tree cones and seeds, and a rock that “appears to have a sea lion skull within it that is perhaps two million years or more old,” according to the Metro Rail’s blog.

The expansion of L.A.’s purple line is near the La Brea Tar Pits, where many fossils have been found.

The exploratory shaft for the subway route is now 65 feet deep, according to Metro.

“We expect that we’re going to find large deposits of late Ice Age vertebrate remains,” said Aisling Farrell, collections manager at Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, in an interview with KABC-TV in Los Angeles.

Metro is working with the museum to identify and preserve the fossils, according to Metro.

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Prehistoric human discovery in England


This video from Britain says about itself:

The earliest human footprints outside Africa found in Norfolk | Natural History Museum

7 Feb 2014

A series of footprints that were left by early humans over 800,000 years ago have been discovered by a team of scientists led by the British Museum, Natural History Museum and Queen Mary University of London.

The footprints left in ancient estuary muds were found at Happisburgh in Norfolk and are direct evidence of the earliest known humans in northern Europe. Find out more about the discovery: here.

Archaeological finds from Happisburgh and other locations around the country feature in our Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story exhibition, open between 13 February and 28 September 2014: here.

From Associated Press:

Million-year-old footprints found

Last updated 15:42 08/02/2014

They were a British family on a day out — almost a million years ago.

Archaeologists have announced the discovery of human footprints in England that are between 800,000 and 1 million years old — the most ancient found outside Africa, and the earliest evidence of human life in northern Europe.

A team from the British Museum, London’s Natural History Museum and Queen Mary college at the University of London uncovered imprints from up to five individuals in ancient estuary mud at Happisburgh on the country’s eastern coast.

British Museum archaeologist Nick Ashton said the discovery — recounted in detail in the journal PLOS ONE — was ‘‘a tangible link to our earliest human relatives.’’

Preserved in layers of silt and sand for hundreds of millennia before being exposed by the tide last year, the prints give a vivid glimpse of some of our most ancient ancestors.

They were left by a group, including at least two children and one adult male. They could have been be a family foraging on the banks of a river scientists think may be the ancient Thames, beside grasslands where bison, mammoth, hippos and rhinoceros roamed.

University of Southampton archaeology professor Clive Gamble, who was not involved in the project, said the discovery was ‘‘tremendously significant”.

‘‘It’s just so tangible,’’ he said. ‘‘This is the closest we’ve got to seeing the people. ‘‘When I heard about it, it was like hearing the first line of (William Blake’s hymn) Jerusalem — ‘And did those feet, in ancient time, walk upon England’s mountains green?’ Well, they walked upon its muddy estuary.’’

The researchers said the humans who left the footprints may have been related to Homo antecessor, or ‘‘pioneer man,’’ whose fossilised remains have been found in Spain.

That species died out about 800,000 years ago. Ashton said the footprints are between 800,000 — ‘‘as a conservative estimate’’ — and 1 million years old, at least 100,000 years older than scientists’ earlier estimate of the first human habitation in Britain.

That’s significant because 700,000 years ago, Britain had a warm, Mediterranean-style climate. The earlier period was much colder, similar to modern-day Scandinavia. Natural History Museum archaeologist Chris Stringer said that 800,000 or 900,000 years ago Britain was ‘‘the edge of the inhabited world.’’

‘This makes us rethink our feelings about the capacity of these early people, that they were coping with conditions somewhat colder than the present day,’’ he said.

‘‘Maybe they had cultural adaptations to the cold we hadn’t even thought were possible 900,000 years ago. Did they wear clothing? Did they make shelters, windbreaks and so on?

”Could they have the use of fire that far back?’’ he asked.

Scientists dated the footprints by studying their geological position and from nearby fossils of long-extinct animals including mammoth, ancient horse and early vole.

John McNabb, director of the Centre for the Archaeology of Human Origins at the University of Southampton — who was not part of the research team — said the use of several lines of evidence meant ‘‘the dating is pretty sound.’’

Once uncovered, the perishable prints were recorded using sophisticated digital photography to create 3-D images in which it’s possible to discern arches of feet, and even toes.

Isabelle De Groote, a specialist in ancient human remains at Liverpool John Moores University who worked on the find, said that from the pattern of the prints, the group of early humans appeared to be ‘‘pottering around,’’ perhaps foraging for food. She said it wasn’t too much of a stretch to call it a family.

‘‘These individuals travelling together, it’s likely that they were somehow related,’’ she said. Research at Happisburgh will continue, and scientists are hopeful of finding fossilised remains of the ancient humans, or evidence of their living quarters, to build up a fuller picture of their lives. The footprint find will form part of an exhibition, ‘‘Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story,’’ opening at the Natural History Museum next week.

The footprints themselves, which survived for almost 1 million years, won’t be there. Two weeks after they were uncovered, North Sea tides had washed them away.

The oldest human footprints ever discovered outside of Africa have already been washed away: here.

London’s Natural History Museum is holding an exhibition until September 28, 2014, on the human occupation of Britain. It focuses on the Palaeolithic period, which covers about 99 percent of human history from the earliest known use of stone tools about 2.6 million years ago to approximately 10,000 years ago: here.

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Mammoths extinct because of lack of flowers?


This video is called Woolly Mammoth: Secrets From Ice – Documentary.

From Reuters news agency:

Disappearance of wildflowers may have doomed Ice Age giants

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON Wed Feb 5, 2014 6:20pm EST

Flower power may have meant the difference between life and death for some of the extinct giants of the Ice Age, including the mighty woolly mammoth and woolly rhinoceros.

Scientists who studied DNA preserved in Arctic permafrost sediments and in the remains of such ancient animals have concluded that these Ice Age beasts relied heavily on the protein-rich wildflowers that once blanketed the region.

But dramatic Ice Age climate change caused a huge decline in these plants, leaving the Arctic covered instead in grasses and shrubs that lacked the same nutritional value and could not sustain the big herbivorous mammals, the scientists reported in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

The change in vegetation began roughly 25,000 years ago and ended about 10,000 years ago – a time when many of the big animals slipped into extinction, the researchers said.

Scientists for years have been trying to figure out what caused this mass extinction, when two-thirds of all the large-bodied mammals in the Northern Hemisphere died out.

“Now we have, from my perspective at least, a very credible explanation,” Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen, an expert in ancient DNA who led an international team of researchers, said in a telephone interview.

The findings contradicted the notion that humans arriving in these regions during the Ice Age caused the mass extinction by hunting the big animals into oblivion – the so-called overkill or Blitzkrieg hypothesis.

“We think that the major driver (of the mass extinction) is not the humans,” Willerslev said, although he did not rule out that human hunters may have delivered the coup de grace to some species already diminished by the dwindling food supplies.

The Arctic region once teemed with herds of big animals, in some ways resembling an African savanna. Large plant eaters included woolly mammoths, woolly rhinos, horses, bison, reindeer and camels, with predators including hyenas, saber-toothed cats, lions and huge short-faced bears.

The scientists carried out a 50,000-year history of the vegetation across the Arctic in Siberia and North America.

They obtained 242 permafrost sediment samples from various Arctic sites and studied the feces and stomach contents from the mummified remains of Ice Age animals recovered in places like Siberia. They determined the age of the samples and analyzed the DNA.

While many scientists had thought the ecosystem had been grasslands and the big animals were grass eaters, this study showed it instead was dominated by a kind of plant known as forbs – essentially wildflowers.

“The whole Arctic ecosystem looked extremely different from today. You can imagine these enormous steppes with no trees, no shrubs, but dominated by these small flowering plants,” Willerslev said.

Christian Brochmann, a botanist at the Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo, said the permafrost contained “a vast, frozen DNA archive left as footprints from past ecosystems,” that could be deciphered by exploring animal and plant collections already stored in museums.

(Reporting by Will Dunham, editing by G Crosse)

Did flowers take out the woolly mammoth? Here.

From Russia with love: baby mammoth on way to London Museum: here.

Woolly Mammoths’ Birth Defects May Have Contributed To Animals’ Extinction: here.

One of the most controversial ideas about prehistoric North America — that an impact by an extraterrestrial object 12,800 years ago triggered a cold snap that killed off mammoths and decimated early human populations — is under fresh attack. Independent archaeologists have reanalysed the dates of geological material that reportedly represents the impact, and found that they do not match: here.

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Ancient Neanderthals, new research


This video says about itself:

Svante Pääbo: DNA clues to our inner Neanderthal

30 Aug 2011

Sharing the results of a massive, worldwide study, geneticist Svante Pääbo shows the DNA proof that early humans mated with Neanderthals after we moved out of Africa. (Yes, many of us have Neanderthal DNA.) He also shows how a tiny bone from a baby finger was enough to identify a whole new humanoid species.

By Matthew MacEgan:

The genetic legacy of the Neanderthals

6 January 2014

New research published in a recent issue of Nature presents the sequencing of the entire genome of a Neanderthal woman who lived in the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia over 50,000 years ago. The data gathered from this study, along with another published study regarding the genome sequencing of a Denisovan hominin, a related group of humans who lived side by side with Neanderthals during this period, has much to say about prehistoric human development and the genetic makeup of modern humans, going far beyond any previous genetic research on archaic humans.

Genome sequencing is a relatively new process that enables researchers to map and examine DNA. The most famous example has been the Human Genome Project, an international effort to map the entire genetic sequence of modern humans all over the world, allowing for a detailed exploration of our biological history. The recent sequencing of Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes are the very first performed on extinct hominins (humans) and dramatically aid in our understanding of gene flow and drift between our archaic predecessors.

The Neanderthal type specimen fossil was discovered in a limestone quarry in the Neander Valley near Düsseldorf, Germany, in August 1856. Its discovery took place just three years prior to the publishing of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, launching the finding into a larger debate about biological evolution. The most commonly debated aspect of Neanderthal history in recent years has been whether Neanderthals interbred with Homo sapiens and whether such offspring were fertile.

Separating Neandertal DNA from modern human contamination: here.
Geographic dispersal of Neanderthals

There are currently known remains attributed to 400 different Neanderthals ranging geographically from Portugal to Siberia, including northern European finds in England and Germany as well as Middle Eastern counterparts in Israel and Iraq. These fossils range in date from 350,000 years ago to 35,000 years ago.

Earlier Neanderthal fossils share traits with the older hominin Homo heidelbergensis, which spread across Africa, Europe, and Asia at least 600,000 years ago. Both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens are believed to have evolved from Homo heidelbergensis, each group developing in isolation due to prolonged quaternary glacial periods. If this hypothesis is correct, Homo sapiens would have developed in Africa, while Neanderthals evolved throughout Eurasia.

Neanderthals share 99.7 percent of their DNA with modern humans but display very specific morphological differences. Neanderthals were considerably more “robust” than Homo sapiens, featuring thicker bones and a larger brain case. While modern humans have an average brain capacity of 1400cc, the average Neanderthal reached 1600cc in size. Neanderthals are also thought to have been much stronger than anatomically modern humans, especially having stronger arms and hands. It has even been suggested that the more robust Neanderthal teeth were used as cutting tools (the more “gracile” Homo sapiens teeth perhaps developed along with the increased use of fire to cook food, which made it softer). Neanderthals are also thought to have consumed a larger percentage of meat as part of their diet, including big game animals. One of the more popular explanations for the physical divergence between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens is climatic. Bodies with shorter limbs and thicker forms retain heat more efficiently in colder geographic areas while more lissome figures with longer limbs disperse heat better in warmer climates.

In 2008, an excavation performed in Denisova Cave in southern Siberia, near the borders of Kazakhstan and Mongolia, yielded the fossil remains of both Neanderthals and those of a potentially new group of hominins that have since become known as “Denisovans.” These remains have enabled researchers to determine that both groups inhabited Eurasia during the period when modern humans emerged from Africa (around 50,000 years ago), leading some to believe that Denisovans similarly evolved from Homo heidelbergensis living in Asia.

According to the recent Nature article, the “Altai Neanderthal” genome was sequenced from DNA extracted from a toe phalanx discovered in Denisova Cave in 2010. The archaeological layer within which the toe was found is located in the east gallery of the cave and is thought to be at least 50,000 years old. While the bone features traits commonly found in both Neanderthals and modern humans, the DNA found within shares a common ancestor with six previously published Neanderthal DNA sequences, providing adequate evidence that it indeed belongs to a Neanderthal.

The main finding of the report, which has been focused on by most media outlets, is a high level of inbreeding in the Altai Neanderthal. According to the published research, her parents were closely related enough to be either half-siblings who shared the same mother or of another close relation such as double first cousins, uncle and niece, or grandmother and grandson. While there has been a high level of discussion about whether inbreeding was common amongst the Altai Neanderthal population, no scientific evidence has surfaced which supports this theory. Inbreeding is more typical of small, isolated populations.

The toe phalanx genome was compared to several other hominin genomes, including the Denisovan genome sequence that was previously recorded from DNA extracted from a finger phalanx. The Denisovan finger, excavated in 2008, was found within the same archaeological layer as the Neanderthal toe. Other genomes used for comparison include those of several other Neanderthals and 25 present-day humans. Researchers were thus able to provide new estimates of population split times.

Their estimates suggest that the ancestors of modern humans split from both Neanderthals and Denisovans between approximately 553,000 and 589,000 years ago, while the Neanderthal and Denisovan populations seem to have split apart later, about 381,000 years ago.

According to the authors of the Nature article and of potentially greater interest is the fact that the population of the ancestors of modern humans began to increase over time after the split, while Neanderthals and Denisovans saw subsequent decreases in population size. This supports previous speculations that Neanderthal populations were small and stable or even declining at the height of the last glacial period.

The new genome sequences also support admixture theories previously suggested by researchers. Much controversy has surrounded the suggestion that archaic humans such as Neanderthals and Denisovans interbred with the ancestors of modern humans, especially amongst those who theorize that other hominin groups were violently eradicated by “blood-thirsty” Homo sapiens. Other earlier writers on the subject placed Neanderthals as direct ancestors of modern humans while more recent scholarly work has suggested a smaller percentage of Neanderthal genetic material in the Homo sapiens genome sequence.

In recent years, new research has strongly indicated that modern humans emerged and dispersed from Africa approximately 50,000 years ago, mixing with Neanderthals in the Middle East before venturing into Europe and Asia, with those anatomically-modern humans who passed into Asia mixing further with Denisovans in Oceania. If these archaic groups intermingled genetically, a newer, clearer picture of our ancestors can be understood, a picture that is far less grim than the violent images of conquest propounded by some analysts.

The Altai Neanderthal genome sequence shows that Neanderthal-derived DNA in all non-Africans is 1.5 to 2.1 percent, while Denisovan-derived DNA found in human inhabitants of Papua New Guinea and Australia is 3 to 6 percent. There are also small traces (0.5 percent) of Denisovan DNA in mainland Asian and Native American populations. Such evidence of archaic human gene flow into modern populations suggests that decreasing populations of Neanderthals and perhaps also Denisovans never became “extinct” but were merely subsumed by increasing numbers of modern humans.

Ultimately this data supports the theory that Neanderthals and Denisovans did interbreed with Homo sapiens and did produce fertile offspring.

Absolutely integral to an understanding of archaic humanity is consciousness of the fact that very much is still unknown to us. In fact, if all of the excavated hominin remains from which we derive our knowledge of our ancestors were gathered together into one collection, it would easily fit into the bed of a single pickup truck.

Several other lineages and archaic human populations are for now beyond our knowledge. For example, 2.7 to 5.8 percent of the Denisovan genome comes from an unknown source, possibly an archaic hominin group which diverged from other hominins around 1 million years ago. Therefore, our current understanding of archaic humans must remain pliable and open to new findings and interpretations of raw data.

Humans appear to have inherited some traits related to skin, hair & autoimmune diseases from Neandertal ancestors: here.

DNA study shows why Neanderthals and modern humans are so different: here.

Neandertal Demise: An Archaeological Analysis of the Modern Human Superiority Complex: here.

A newly discovered hearth full of ash and charred bone in a cave in modern-day Israel hints that early humans sat around fires as early as 300,000 years ago — before Homo sapiens arose in Africa: here. Already earlier, Peking Man is said to have used fire.

Neanderthal faces emerge from the gloom of a Spanish cave. Bones and skulls found in the cave show Neanderthal facial features appearing for the first time 430,000 years ago: here.

The Neandertal branch of the hominid family tree just got a lot more shrublike: here.

Neanderthals may have used their teeth as a third hand. Evolved big brain later: here.