The first snapshot of a Neanderthal community was put together by scientists studying ancient DNA from bone and tooth fragments unearthed in caves in southern Siberia.
The researchers analyzed DNA from 13 Neanderthal men, women, and children and found an interconnected network of relationships that included a father and his teenage daughter, another man related to the father, and two second-degree relatives, possibly an aunt and his nephew.
all Neanderthals Researchers believe the small population size of Neanderthals consisted of only 10 to 30 individuals, with communities scattered over great distances.
Laurits Skov, first author of the study at the Max Planck Evolutionary Institute Anthropology In Leipzig, he said it was “very exciting” that Neanderthals were alive at the same time, implying that they belonged to a single social community.
Neanderthal remains have been recovered from numerous caves in western Eurasia – the region occupied by thick-browed humans from about 430,000 years ago until they went extinct 40,000 years ago. It was previously impossible to tell whether Neanderthals found in certain regions belonged to communities.
“Neanderthal remains in general, and remains with preserved DNA in particular, are extremely rare,” said Benjamin Peter, senior author of the study in Leipzig. “We tend to get single individuals from sites that are often thousands of kilometers and tens of thousands of years apart.”
In the most recent study, researchers, including Svante Pääbo, who won this year’s competition nobel prize in medicine For groundbreaking work on ancient genomes, he studied DNA from Neanderthal remains found at Chagyrskaya cave in southern Siberia’s Altai Mountains and the nearby Okladnikov cave.
Neanderthals who took refuge in caves about 54,000 years ago sought refuge to feast on mountain goats, horses, and bison, which they hunted as migratory animals along the river valleys overlooked by the caves. Beyond Neanderthal and animal bones, tens of thousands of stone tools have also been found.
writing in the journal NatureScientists describe how ancient DNA points to Neanderthals who lived at the same time, some of which were members of the same family.
Further analysis revealed greater genetic diversity in Neanderthal mitochondria (tiny battery-like structures inside cells that are passed only from the mother) than in the Y chromosomes passed down from father to son. The most likely explanation, according to the researchers, is that female Neanderthals traveled from their home communities to live with male partners. However, whether power is involved is not a question that DNA can answer. “Personally, I don’t think there is particularly good evidence that Neanderthals were very different from early modern humans living at the same time,” Peter said.
“We found that the community we studied was probably very small, perhaps 10 to 20 individuals, and that the larger Neanderthal populations in the Altai mountains were quite sparse,” said Peter. “Still, they’ve managed to persevere in a harsh environment for hundreds of thousands of years, and I think they deserve great respect.”
Dr Lara Cassidy, assistant professor of genetics at Trinity College Dublin, described the work as a “landmark” and “the first genomic image of a Neanderthal community”.
“Understanding how their societies are organized is important for many reasons,” Cassidy said. Said. “It humanizes people and gives them rich context to their lives. But it can also reveal unique aspects of our own social organization if we have more work like this one. homo sapiens ancestors. This is crucial to understanding why we are here today and there were no Neanderthals.”
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