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Continued: Ancient DNA, new mystery

  • Article by: CARL ZIMMER , New York Times
  • Last update: December 4, 2013 - 9:10 PM

In 2006, a team of French and Belgian researchers obtained a fragment of Neanderthal DNA dating back 100,000 years, which until now held the record for the oldest human DNA ever found.

Meanwhile, using improved methods, Paabo, Meyer and their colleagues assembled a rough draft of the entire Neanderthal genome in 2010.

That discovery shed light on how Neanderthals and humans’ ancestors split from a common ancestor hundreds of thousands of years ago. It also revealed that Neanderthals and humans interbred around 50,000 years ago.

About the same time, Russian collaborators sent the Max Planck team 80,000-year-old fossils they had found in a cave in Siberia called Denisova. When the German scientists sequenced the entire genome from the finger bone of a girl, it turned out to be neither human nor Neanderthal but from a separate lineage, which the team named Denisovans.

Meyer is hopeful more DNA from the Spanish fossils will help solve the puzzle.

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  • what they looked like: An artist’s rendering showed the humans of Sima de los Huesos, who are estimated to have lived about 400,000 years ago during the Middle Pleistocene. So far, their discovery has provided more questions than answers.

  • This undated photo provided by Madrid Scientific Films in December 2013 shows the thigh bone of a hominin estimated to be about 400,000-years-old, excavated from Sima de los Huesos, Spain. Scientists have reached farther back than ever into the ancestry of humans to recover and analyze DNA, with a sample from this bone. So far, the achievement has provided more questions than answers about the human family tree. Results were presented online Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013 in the journal Nature by Matthias Meyer and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, with co-authors in Spain...

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