One of the most amazing archaeological discoveries of 2010 was the decoding of the Neanderthal Genome. According to the Archeological Institute of America, the most startling bits of news from this study may be that the Neanderthals are not completely gone, or at least their genes are not. Even more insight came from this groundbreaking study.
Genetic anthropologist Svante Pääbo led the research group from the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. This first-draft DNA sequence covers only 60% of the Neanderthal Genome, and yet the findings have broad implications not just for the Neanderthals but for modern humans. They hope to gain even more information as they complete it, according to the New York Times.
The Neanderthal DNA came from three bones from the Vindjia Cave in Croatia. They were limb bones found in the 1970. It is believed that all came from women and that two were related, but they were all from different individuals. The two that were dated came from 34,000 to 42,000 and 43,000 to 45,000 years ago.
One important finding of the study was the gene RUNX2. This gene differs in modern humans and Neanderthals, accounting for differences in the shape of the skull, the joint of the shoulder and the rib-cage. These are important places where humans and Neanderthals differ, thus this gene sheds some light on these changes.
An amazing discovery came when the research team compared the Neanderthal DNA to those of modern humans. Modern humans were represented by five humans. It included people from around the world: The French, Han Chinese and Polynesian, which were non-African, and the Yoruba and San from Africa. The results showed a relation to modern humans, but only in non-Africans.
Non-Africans shared some of the Neanderthal DNA in a consistent amount. This ranged from 1 to 4% and were across different genes. This was not seen among the Africans. Because of this discovery, the research group surmised that some Homo Sapiens departed Africa between 100,000 and 80,000 years ago and bred with Neanderthals in the middle East. This group may either not have moved back to Africa or not had a strong enough presence for the Neanderthal DNA to show up there.
The decoding of the Neanderthal has great implications in archeology. It can help explain and explore not only the Neanderthals but also the humans, giving a better view of how humans evolved. The path to the modern human may not have been quite as linear as once believed. As more information on this genome becomes available, the implications will widen.