Researchers Reveal First Neanderthal Family in Largest Known Genetic Study

Their findings were published Wednesday in Nature.

Neanderthals occupied western Eurasia until about 430,000 to 40,000 years ago. Researchers published the first draft Neanderthal genome in 2010. Even though experts at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have sequenced another 18 genomes from 14 different archaeological sites across Eurasia, little is known about their social organization.

To further examine the group’s social structure, the researchers traveled to southern Siberia, an area known for ancient DNA research such as Denisova’s hominid remains in the famous Denisova Cave – which revealed that Neanderthals and Denisovans lived and interacted with each other.

Largest number of Neanderthal remains ever sequenced

Within 100 kilometers from the Denisova Cave are the Chagyrskaya and Okladnikov Caves. Neanderthals had briefly occupied these sites around 54,000 years ago – their remains had previously been recovered from deposits. For their new study, the researchers recovered DNA from 17 Neanderthal remains, the largest number of Neanderthal remains ever sequenced in a single study.

Chagyrskaya cave, Siberia.

The authors found a particular type of genetic variant called heteroplasms in the mitochondrial DNA of 17 remains from 13 Neanderthal individuals – seven males and six females. This indicated that some Chagyrskaya people were closely related, including a father and his teenage daughter, among a pair of second-degree relatives. The combination of heteroplasms and related individuals suggested that Neanderthals from Chagyrskaya Cave “must have lived – and died – around the same time”.

“The fact that they lived at the same time is very exciting. This means that they probably came from the same social community. So, for the first time, we can use genetics to study the social organization of a community Neanderthal,” Laurits said. Skov, the study’s first author, said in a statement.

Comments are closed.