Photo by Fred H. Smith
A newly retrieved Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence indicates that
humans anatomically modern humans (AMH) and Neanderthals are different species, and in fact evolved separately sometime between 550,000 and 820,000 years ago.
Last week in the journal Cell, a team led by Svante Paabo reported that a complete Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence has been recovered from a bone excavated at the Vindija Cave site in Croatia.
The bone, referred to as bone 33.16 in the latest article, is called Vi-80 in the older literature. Vi-80 is a fragment of a bone from a male Neanderthal. The bone was excavated from the G3 level of Vindija cave in 1980; it has been radiocarbon dated to 38,310 +/- 2130 radiocarbon years before the present (RCYBP). G3 is one of four and maybe five fairly intact levels at Vindija that hold human remains: Vindija cave's archaeological levels hold remains of both AMH and Neanderthals in its deposits. Level G3 is strictly a Neanderthal level, with Mousterian-type artifacts alongside. See the Vindija Cave glossary entry for specifics.
It is great good luck that a bone excavated nearly 30 years ago has not been contaminated by modern DNA from people handling the bone. Researchers looking at Vi-80 (among other samples) discovered DNA fragments there that were predominantly Neanderthal ~99% of the 63 base-pair mtDNA segments and ~94% of the 119-base pair segments were of Neanderthal origin. It so far is the most DNA recovered from a Neanderthal individual. That level of integrity allowed Green and colleagues to recreate the entire mtDNA sequence.
Neanderthals, Family and Neighbors
Interestingly, Lalueza-Fox and colleagues discovered similar DNA sequences--fragments of sequences, that is--in Neanderthals from Feldhofer Cave (Germany) and El Sidron (northern Spain), leading them to suggest that a common demographic history existed among Neanderthal groups in eastern Europe and the Iberian peninsula. The implications of that, with respect to movement of Neanderthal populations and interactions with AMH populations living in the same vicinity, have yet to be discussed.
Sources and Further Info
- Green, Richard E., et al. 2008 A Complete Neandertal Mitochondrial Genome Sequence Determined by High-Throughput Sequencing. Cell 134(3):416-426. The original article; the abstract's free, although the article itself is not
- No Neanderthal In You, Says Ancient DNA, Brandon Keim in Wired
- Complete Neanderthal Mitochondrial Genome Sequenced From 38,000-year-old Bone, Science Daily
- The Complete Vindija 33.16 Neandertal Mitochondrial Genome Announced in Cell, Kambiz Kamrati on Anthropology.net
- Complete Neandertal mitochondrial sequence, and selection on human (not Neandertal) mtDNA, John Hawks