New evidence suggests that human ancestors may have actually lived amongst Neanderthals.
Prior to this, it was believed that Neanderthals were the ancestors to humans, one of the species that pre-dated Homo sapiens and was much more primate-like in nature. However, as Science Magazine reports, a recent DNA sequence of ancient mitochondria from a nearly 100-year-old Neanderthal located in Germany resembled that of early humans.
Due to the fact that this type of DNA is only inherited from the mother, the conclusion was made that a female member of the species that gave rise to Homo sapiens mated with a Neanderthal male almost 220,000 years ago. The offspring of the two ended up passing down Neanderthal lineage, which was eventually replaced by the mother’s African Homo sapien DNA.
Up until recently, it was widely-accepted that Neanderthals, a species that went extinct roughly 40,000 years ago, were merely the closest human relative, a species that shared certain characteristics with modern humans, but one that was wholly different, genetically-speaking. For example, their skulls were characterized by angled cheekbones, a large middle part of their face, and large noses for warming the colder air. Their brains, though, were comparable in size to ours and, in most cases, often larger due to the stocky proportions of their bodies.
In terms of interactions between humans and Neanderthals, though, another accepted belief was that the two species had very little interaction, but evolved from a common ancestor as early as 500,000 years ago. It was also believed that the presence of early humans prevented Neanderthals from being able to settle in regions of Europe that’d previously been their home, which may very well have contributed to the beginning of their extinction process.
However, with this new evidence now surfacing, researchers must now formulate new hypotheses about how these early humans and Neanderthals not only lived in much closer proximity to one other than was previously believed, but also, as it turns out, ended up getting along much better than prior findings originally suggested.
Top photo courtesy of Allan Henderson, CC BY 2.0
Natalie Wickstrom is a freelance writer based in Athens, Georgia. She probably wrote this piece to the tune of a movie score whilst chewing gum.