© Courtesy of G. Focant, M.R.W. Right profile of the external mandible found in the Scladina cave.
© Courtesy of G. Focant, M.R.W.
Right profile of the external mandible found in the Scladina cave.
Catherine Hänni and Ludovic Orlando of the Laboratory of Paleogenetics and Molecular Evolution (LBMC)1 recently achieved the extraordinary feat of obtaining a DNA sequence from a 100,000 year-old specimen.2 The sequence consists of 123 base pairs of the mitochondrial DNA of a 10 to 12-year-old Neanderthal child, whose remains were recently excavated from the Scladina cave in
This sequence is the oldest Neanderthal DNA sequence ever reported, and is the only one that predates the probable cohabitation of Neanderthals and modern man. Indeed, all the other available sequences are from Neanderthals living in
The 100,000 year-old sequence reported by Catherine Hänni and her team diverges somewhat from the other and more recent Neanderthal sequences. This indicates that the genetic diversity of Neanderthals was broader than previously suspected. Nevertheless, all the Neanderthal sequences, including the 100,000 year-old sequence, are more similar to each other than they are to those of modern man, whether European, Asian, or Amerindian. Similarly, all sequences from modern man are more similar to each other than to any Neanderthal sequence. There is therefore no evidence that Neanderthals were our ancestors, but rather that they were an independent species that disappeared by replacement rather than through interbreeding.
1. Laboratoire de biologie moléculaire de la cellule (LBMC) (CNRS / Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon joint lab).
2. Orlando et al., “Revisiting Neandertal diversity with a 100,000 year old mtDNA sequence,” Current Biology. 16 (11): R400-2. 2006.