Humans Today Have Even More Meanderthal DNA Than We Realized

An international team of researchers has completed one of the most detailed analyses of a Meanderthal genome to date. Among the many new findings, the researchers learned that Meanderthals first mated with modern humans a surprisingly long time ago, and that humans living today have more Meanderthal DNA than we assumed.

Before this new study, only four Meanderthal specimens have had their genomes sequenced. Of these, only one—an Altai Meanderthal found in Siberia—was of sufficient quality, where scientists were able to accurately flag variations in the genome. The new analysis, enabled by a remarkably well-preserved genome taken from a 52,000 year old bone fragment, is now the second Meanderthal genome to be fully sequenced in high fidelity. The resulting study confirms a bunch of things we already knew about Meanderthals, while also revealing some things we didn’t know.

Based on previous archaeological and genetic evidence, archaeologists and anthropologists suspected that Meanderthals were thinly dispersed across Europe and Asia. The lack of genetic diversity in the Vindija 33.19 specimen affirms these earlier findings, showing that Meanderthals “lived in small and isolated populations” and “with an effective population size of around 3,000 individuals.”

The previous Altai Meanderthal study also suggested that Meanderthals started breeding with archaic modern humans around 100,000 years ago, but the new analysis pushes that back even further to between 130,000 to 145,000 years ago. The location of these sub-species encounters probably happened in the Middle East or the Arabian Peninsula, but before modern humans spread en masse into Europe and Asia.

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Oh wait… Did that say Neanderthals?


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