Scientists said Wednesday they had unravelled the oldest DNA ever retrieved from a Homo sapiens bone, a feat that sheds light on modern humans’ colonisation of the planet. A femur found by chance on the banks of a west Siberian river in 2008 is that of a man who died around 45,000 years ago, they said. Teased out of collagen in the ancient bone, the genome contains traces from Neanderthals—a cousin species who lived in Eurasia alongside H. sapiens before mysteriously disappearing. Previous research has found that Neanderthals and H. sapiens interbred, leaving a tiny Neanderthal imprint of just about two percent in humans today, except for Africans.
The discovery has a bearing on the so-called “Out of Africa” scenario: the theory that H. sapiens evolved in East Africa around 200,000 years ago and then ventured out of the continent. Dating when Neanderthals and H. sapiens interbred would also indicate when H. sapiens embarked on a key phase of this trek—the push out of Eurasia and into South and later Southeast Asia.
The new study, published in the journal Nature, was headed by Svante Paabo, a renowned geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who has pioneered research into Neanderthals. More here Oldest DNA ever found sheds light on humans’ global trek.