Europeans may be 5% Neanderthal
People who have large noses, a stocky build and a beetle brow may indeed be a little Neanderthal, according to a genetic study. But the good news is that other research concludes that Neanderthals were much more like us than previously thought.
People of European descent may be five per cent Neanderthal, according to a study published in the journal PLoS Genetics, which suggests we all have a sprinkling of archaic DNA in our genes.
"Instead of a population that left Africa 100,000 years ago and replaced all other archaic human groups, we propose that this population interacted with another population that had been in Europe for much longer, maybe 400,000 years," says Dr Vincent Plagnol, of the University of Southern California, who with Dr Jeffrey Wall analysed 135 different regions of the human genetic code.
They looked at 34 people from Utah with ancestors from Northern and Western Europe and Yoruba people from West Africa. Using statistics and computer modelling, the researchers focused on linkage "disequilibriums", or sections within genes that did not make sense if only modern human matings are considered.
The missing genetic links only fit if some other hominid population is introduced. "We found that a simple model cannot explain the data if we do not add an 'ancestral population'," said Dr Plagnol.
Dr Plagnol explains that different parts of the genome have different ancestry, so an individual could have a fraction of a certain chromosome that is inherited from a Neanderthal, but still have mitochondrial DNA which is "very typical Homo sapiens".
A second study has concluded that Neanderthals were much more like modern humans than had been previously thought, after finds from one of the most famous palaeolithic sites in Europe were re-examined by Bristol University archaeologist, Prof Joao Zilhao, and his French colleagues.
Prof Zilhao has been able to show that sophisticated artefacts such as personal ornaments found in the Châtelperronian culture of France and Spain were genuinely associated with Neanderthals around 44,000 years ago, rather than acquired from modern humans living nearby.
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