Neanderthals and modern people separated as a species at least 800,000 years ago – more than twice as long ago as previously thought
- Researchers analyzed dental evolutionary rates for different types of hominine
- Teeth of hominids in Spain deviated from modern humans rather than imagined
- They studied the icave site Sima de los Huesos in the Spanish Atapuerca Mountains
- Previous studies date it to about 430,000 years ago in the Middle Pleistocene
Neanderthals and modern people separated from their common ancestors at least 800,000 years ago, more than twice as long ago as previously thought.
Most DNA-based estimates suggest that this occurred between 300 and 500,000 years ago.
Researchers at University College London analyzed dental evolutionary rates in various hominids, with an emphasis on early Neanderthals.
This revealed that the teeth of hominins from Sima de los Huesos to Spain – ancestors of the Neanderthals – deviated from modern human descent rather than supposedly.
Neanderthals and modern people separated from their common ancestors at least 800,000 years ago, more than twice as long ago as previously thought. Researchers analyzed dental evolutionary rates (pictured) across different types of hominine to find the finding
Sima de los Huesos is a cave site in the Atapuerca Mountains where archaeologists have found fossils of nearly 30 people.
Previous studies date the site until about 430,000 years ago in the Middle Pleistocene.
This makes it one of the oldest and largest collections of human remains that have been discovered to date.
Dr. Aida Gomez-Robles, of the UCL anthropology department, said: & # 39; Any divergence between Neanderthals and modern people younger than 800,000 years ago would have resulted in unexpectedly rapid tooth development in the early Neanderthals of Sima de los Huesos.
& # 39; There are several factors that could explain these results, including a strong selection to change the teeth of these hominins or their isolation from other Neanderthals on mainland Europe.
& # 39; The simplest explanation, however, is that the differences between Neanderthals and modern people were over 800,000 years old. This would make the evolutionary speeds of the early Neanderthals of Sima de los Huesos approximately comparable to those of other species. & # 39;
The study revealed that the teeth of hominids (pictured) of Sima de los Huesos in Spain – ancestors of the Neanderthals – deviated more than previously assumed from modern human descent
WHO WERE THE NEANDERTHALS?
The Neanderthals were a close human ancestor who mysteriously died out around 50,000 years ago.
The species lived in Africa with early humans for hundreds of millennia before moving to Europe about 500,000 years ago.
Later they were accompanied by people who took the same journey in the last 100,000 years.
The Neanderthals were a cousin of humans, but not a direct ancestor – the two species that were split from a common ancestor – who died around 50,000 years ago. Depicted is a Neanderthal museum exhibition
These were the original & # 39; cavemen & # 39 ;, historically dull and brutal compared to modern people.
In recent years, and especially in the last decade, it has become increasingly clear that we have sold Neanderthals briefly.
A growing number of evidence points to a more refined and multilingual type of & # 39; caveman & # 39; than anyone had ever thought possible.
It now seems likely that Neanderthals buried their dead with the concept of an afterlife in mind.
Moreover, their eating habits and behavior were surprisingly flexible.
They used body art such as pigments and beads, and they were the very first artists, with Neanderthal cave art (and symbolism) in Spain apparently dating back to the earliest modern human art in around 20,000 years.
Modern people share a common ancestor with Neanderthals, the extinct species that were our closest prehistoric relatives.
The details of when and how they diverged, however, are a matter of intense debate within the anthropological community.
Old DNA analyzes have generally indicated that both lineage lines diverged around 300,000 to 500,000 years ago, which has strongly influenced the interpretation of the homine fossil record.
However, this divergence time is not compatible with the anatomical and genetic Neanderthal similarities observed in the hominins of Sima de los Huesos.
The Sima fossils are probably considered Neanderthal ancestors based on both anatomical features and DNA analysis.
Dr. Gomez-Robles said: & # 39; Sima de los Huesos hominins are characterized by very small back teeth (premolars and molars) that have several similarities with classic Neanderthals.
& # 39; It is likely that the small and Neanderthal-looking teeth of these hominins evolved from the larger and more primitive teeth that were present in the last common ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans. & # 39;
The tooth shape has evolved to a similar extent in all types of hominids, including those with very extensive and very limited teeth.
This new study investigated the time when Neanderthals and modern humans should have diverged to make the evolutionary speed of the early Neanderthals of Sima de los Huesos comparable to those observed in other hominins.
The research used quantitative data to measure the evolution of the tooth shape over hominin species, based on different uneven times between Neanderthals and modern humans, and the uncertainty about the evolutionary relationships between different hominin species.
The teeth of the Sima people are very different from what we would expect to find in their last common ancestral species with modern people, suggesting that they developed separately over a long period to develop such large differences.
The study has important implications for the identification of the last common ancestral species Homo sapiens with Neanderthals, because it can exclude all groups that remained 800,000 years ago.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Science Advances.
WHAT KILL THE NEANDERTHALS?
The first Homo sapiens reached Europe about 43,000 years ago, replacing the Neanderthals there about 3000 years later.
There are many theories about what caused the demise of the Neanderthals.
Experts have suggested that early humans may have brought tropical diseases with them from Africa that eradicated their monkey-like nephews.
The first Homo sapiens reached Europe about 43,000 years ago, replacing the Neanderthals (model shown) there about 3000 years later
Others claim that the falling temperatures caused by climate change offset the Neanderthals.
The prevailing theory is that early humans killed the species through food and habitat competition.
Homo Sapiens & superior brain power and hunting techniques meant that the Neanderthals could not compete.
Based on scans of neanderthal skulls, a new theory suggests that the heavily-browed hominids lack essential human brain regions that are vital for memory, thinking, and communication skills.
That would have affected their social and cognitive capacities – and they could have killed them because they couldn't adapt to climate change.
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