Bones find shows there's a little Neanderthal in us all

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The Independent Online

Neanderthal man survived in a central European enclave thousands of years later than had been thought, according to radiocarbon dating of bones from a Stone Age cave.

Neanderthal man survived in a central European enclave thousands of years later than had been thought, according to radiocarbon dating of bones from a Stone Age cave.

Scientists from Oxford University's radiocarbon accelerator unit have confirmed that the Neanderthal bones unearthed from a site at Vindija, 34 miles north of Zagreb, Croatia, are between 28,000 and 29,000 years old.

The new dates, published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , mean that Neanderthals in central Europe were contemporaries of the more direct ancestors of modern humans, the Cro-Magnons, and might therefore have interbred with them to introduce a little Neanderthal in all of us.

Some scientists believe that Neanderthals died out more than 30,000 years ago from their final enclaves in southern Spain without interbreeding. Previous tests have shown that Neanderthal DNA shows little similarity to human DNA.

However, earlier this year a team led by Professor Erik Trinkaus, an anthropologist at the University of Washington at St Louis in Missouri, discovered the intact skeleton of a boy who lived 25,000 years ago and appeared to be a hybrid of Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons. The find challenges the view that the short, thick-set and intellectually challenged Neanderthals were suddenly displaced by the arrival of taller, smarter humans from the middle East, said Professor Trinkaus.

"The new radiocarbon dates suggest that Neanderthals would have co-existed with early modern humans in central Europe for several millennia," said Fred Smith, a palaeontologist and a member of the research team from Northern Illinois University.

The dates suggested that"there was probably a good deal of genetic exchange between Neanderthals and modern humans", he said. "When you look at the anatomy of early modern Europeans, you also find a number of features that are hard to explain unless you allow the Neanderthals some ancestral status."

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