DNA extracted from skeletal remains has shown that Neanderthals roamed some 2000 kilometres further east than previously thought.
Researchers say the genetic sequence of an adolescent Neanderthal found in southern Siberia closely matches that of Neanderthals found in western Europe, suggesting that this close relative of modern humans migrated very long distances.
Svante Pääbo at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues examined skeletal remains found in the Okladnikov cave in the Altai Mountains and dated as between 30,000 and 38,000 years old . Until now, archaeologists have been unable to determine whether the remains belonged to Neanderthals or another species of extinct hominid because the bones are too fragmented.
Pääbo and his colleagues took 200 milligram samples of bone from the adolescent. After dissolving the mineral component of the bone, the team succeeded in extracting DNA from mitochondria – parts of the cell that produce energy.
After sequencing a short fragment of this DNA, the team compared it with that of several Neanderthals found in Europe. They discovered that it matched DNA recovered from remains found in Belgium almost perfectly. The match was “quite a bit of a surprise”, according to Pääbo, since the new evidence extends the territory of this hominid some 2000 kilometres further east.
“It means that Neanderthals were a bit more adaptable than some people give them credit for,” says Jeffrey McKee at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, US.
Archaeologists had previously thought that Neanderthals’ range only extended as far as modern-day Uzbekistan. This was based on a distinctly Neanderthal skull – with a prominent brow and large nasal area – recovered from the Teshik-Tash cave in the south-east of the country.
The study may not settle the debate over Neanderthal’s range definitively, though. Eric Trinkaus at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, US, questions whether it definitively proves the Okladnikov bones to be those of Neanderthals.
Trinkaus suggests that other species of hominids could have had the same mitochondrial DNA sequence as Neanderthals. The mitochondrial sequence found by Pääbo’s team can be used to definitively identify individuals as Neanderthals only after scientists study the mitochondrial DNA of other archaic hominids too, he says
And here is a link to the abstract. Old news, but I’m trying to keep all the neanderthal info I can find on my blog for easy access, as my memory is suffering a bit lately from the MS.