Online Journal of Anthropology

hominins

 

Analysis of nuclear DNA from Sima de los Huesos hominins provides evidence of their relationship to Neandertals

 

Previous analyses of the hominins from Sima de los Huesos in 2013 showed that their maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA was distantly related to Denisovans, extinct relatives of Neandertals in Asia. This was unexpected since their skeletal remains carry Neandertal-derived features. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have since worked on sequencing nuclear DNA from fossils from the cave, a challenging task as the extremely old DNA is degraded to very short fragments. The results now show that the Sima de los Huesos hominins were indeed early Neandertals. Neandertals may have acquired different mitochondrial genomes later, perhaps as the result of gene flow from Africa.

 

The Sima de los Huesos hominins lived approximately 400,000 years ago during the Middle Pleistocene.

The Sima de los Huesos hominins lived approximately 400,000 years ago during the Middle Pleistocene. © Kennis & Kennis, Madrid Scientific Films

 

Until now it has been unclear how the 28 400,000-year-old individuals found at the Sima de los Huesos (“pit of bones”) site in Northern Spain were related to Neandertals and Denisovans who lived until about 40,000 years ago. A previous report based on analyses of mitochondrial DNA from one of the specimens suggested a distant relationship to Denisovans, which is in contrast to other archaeological evidence, including morphological features that the Sima de los Huesos hominins shared with Neandertals.

 

“Sima de los Huesos is currently the only non-permafrost site that allow us to study DNA sequences from the Middle Pleistocene, the time period preceding 125,000 years ago”, says Matthias Meyer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, lead author of an article that was published in Nature today. “The recovery of a small part of the nuclear genome from the Sima de los Huesos hominins is not just the result of our continuous efforts in pushing for more sensitive sample isolation and genome sequencing technologies”, Meyer adds. “This work would have been much more difficult without the special care that was taken during excavation”.

 
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Pioneering Rutgers scientist helps reconstruct an ancient East African landscape where human ancestors lived 1.8 million years ago

 

Illustration: M.Lopez-Herrera via The Olduvai Paleoanthropology and Paleoecology Project and Enrique Baquedano
An artist’s rendition of an early human habitat in East Africa 1.8 million years ago.

 

Scientists have pieced together an early human habitat for the first time, and life was no picnic 1.8 million years ago.

 

Our human ancestors, who looked like a cross between apes and modern humans, had access to food, water and shady shelter at a site in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. They even had lots of stone tools with sharp edges, said Gail M. Ashley, a professor in the Rutgers Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in the School of Arts and Sciences.

 

But “it was tough living,” she said. “It was a very stressful life because they were in continual competition with carnivores for their food.”

 

It was a very stressful life because they were in continual competition with carnivores for their food.
Gail M. Ashley, professor in the Rutgers Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences

 
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