The oldest DNA ever found in human remains is from a woman who lived in the Czech Republic more than 45,000 years ago, a study shows.
Analysis of her skull reveals that she was one of the first batch of Homo sapiens to live in Eurasia after our species emigrated from Africa.
The woman, named Zlatý kůň, is believed to have had Neanderthal ancestors from only six or fewer generations in her past.
The finding confirms that humans mate with Neanderthals shortly after we first reached Europe between 50,000 and 45,000 years ago.
During this mating event, humans incorporated some of the Neanderthal genes that survive in all modern humans except Africans.
Neanderthals would go extinct soon after, with some researchers saying competition with Homo sapiens and a changing climate was to blame.
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Pictured, the skull of a modern human female person named Zlatý kůň. The genetic material obtained from this specimen is believed to be the oldest human DNA found in Europe and proves that Homo sapiens was paired with Neanderthals shortly after arriving in Europe.
The photo shows excavations in the Bacho Kiro cave in Bulgaria. Several modern human bones have been recovered from this layer, along with a rich collection of stone tools, animal bones, bone tools and pendants
Timeline of human mating with Neanderthals
50,000 years ago: People migrate from Africa
About 48,000 years ago: Admixing event between Neanderthal and Homo sapiens. Humans first mate with Neanderthals
45,000 years ago: The oldest surviving human fossils in Europe were alive
40,000 years ago: Neanderthals became extinct
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany attempted to date the skeletal remains using radiocarbon isotopes, the traditional and widely used method of finding out when a fossil lived.
However, contamination of the remains made this impossible.
But Neanderthal DNA can be used as a dating proxy because the length of the segments in the genetic code steadily decreases over generations.
The researchers found in their study, published in Natural Ecology and Evolution, that Zlatý kůň has long strips of continuous Neanderthal DNA scattered across her genome, indicating that she did not live long after humans mated with Neanderthals.
“The results of our DNA analysis show that Zlatý kůň lived closer to the mingling event with Neanderthals,” said Kay Prüfer, co-lead author of the study.
In fact, the team estimates that Zlatý kůň lived just 2,000 years after the first interspecies quarrels between humans and Neanderthals.
This person’s DNA and their population cannot be seen in modern humans in Asia or Europe, where Homo sapiens later colonized, the researchers found.
“It is quite intriguing that the earliest modern humans in Europe did not succeed in the end!” says Johannes Krause, senior author of the study and director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
This evidence, the academics say, means that the Czech person is almost certainly older than other contenders who claim to be the earliest human fossil in Europe.
Pictured, micro-sampling of Zlatý kůň bone from the base of the skull in the cleanroom of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
The Czech woman, named Zlatý kůň, is believed to have possibly had Neanderthal ancestors from just six or fewer generations ago
Two studies published today look at the genetic information of Homo sapiens and how much Neanderthal DNA was in their genomes. One study was based in the Czech Republic and one in Bulgaria
Professor Chris Stringer, research leader Human Evolution at the Natural History Museum, who was not involved in the study, said: “The Zlatý kůň partial skull and skeleton were discovered in 1950, and are believed to be only about 15,000 years old.
According to new analyzes of the woman’s skull, the radiocarbon has been dated to about 34,000 years old, but genomic data suggests it is ultimately 10,000 years older than that, and may be one of the oldest modern humans known to date from Eurasia. to be.’
Last year, researchers discovered human remains in a Bulgarian cave called Bacho Kiro that they said likely lived alongside Neanderthals.
The cave was first discovered and excavated in the 1970s and is located five kilometers from the town of Dryanovo.
Pictured, the intact tooth of a person found in Bacho Kiro Cave in Bulgaria. Genome-wide data on this person indicates that he had a Neanderthal ancestor who lived less than six generations before
Pictured, the entrance to the Bacho Kiro cave. The digs are just inside the entrance and on the left. The cave extends for 3 km and is a popular tourist destination
A study also published today in the journal Nature revealed more insight into these remains and found that they lived between 45,930 and 42,580 years ago.
This finding supports last year’s claims that humans likely lived alongside Neanderthals for millennia before our cousin went extinct about 40,000 years ago.
Analysis of their genomes showed that the three oldest humans buried in the cave have more than three percent Neanderthal DNA in their genomes.
Analysis of the fossilized human remains found that the humans regularly hunted bison and deer, while also turning animals’ teeth into fashion accessories – something Neanderthals are known to have done too.
The photo shows excavations in the Bacho Kiro cave. The front digger records artifacts (each marked with a colored pin). The barcode bags are for individual artifacts once their position has been recorded with a total station
A map showing the relative dates when people arrived on the different continents, including Europe 45,000 years ago. All humanity began in Africa and moved beyond it after spreading across the continent for thousands of years
Several cave bear teeth turned into personal jewelry were also discovered at the Bulgarian site.
Professor Stringer adds that the findings indicate that ‘multiple pulses’ of Homo sapiens were spread across Eurasia.
He believes the different waves of Homo sapien colonization would explain why the Zlatý kůň line was not successful. This would also mean that there were several crossing events with Neanderthals, he adds.
TIMELINE OF HOW PEOPLE DEVELOP AND MATCH WITH OTHER HOMINID SPECIES
A million years ago – Homo sapiens (modern humans), Denisovans, Neanderthals and an unidentified ‘ghost’ population had not yet evolved. All that existed was a single common ancestor.
Some theories claim that this could be Homo erectus or Homo heidelbergensis
700,000 to 300,000 years ago – Neanderthals split from the common ancestor to form their own kind and migrated to Western Eurasia
765,000 to 550.00 years ago – Denisovans split and formed their own kind and dominated East Eurasia
130,000 years ago – Common ancestors in Africa evolved into what we recognize today as Homo sapiens
100,000 years ago – A large wave of Homo sapiens migrated from Africa to the Levant
75,000 years ago Neanderthals moved eastward and encountered Denisovans. These two types were then paired.
50,000 years ago – Homo sapiens begins to migrate to Europe
45,000 years ago – Denisovans and Neanderthals mate with Homo sapiens, in Asia and Europe, respectively.
40,000 years ago – Denisovans and Neanderthals became extinct
15,000 years ago – Homo sapiens migrated to America