Scientists Find Oldest Neanderthal DNA
It could offer new insights into prehistoric life
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 11, 2015 7:29 AM CDT
A Neanderthal couple at a museum in Mettmann, Germany.   (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, file)

(Newser) – About 150,000 years ago, an individual wandered into a cave, fell into a well, and never came back up. Thanks to that accident, scientists have their hands on the oldest Neanderthal DNA in existence, reports The skeleton known as Altamura Man was found in a cave in Italy in 1993, with only its head and part of a shoulder visible. The rest of the body is kind of fused into the rock, explains Discovery. Only recently did researchers get permission to extract a bone sample from the shoulder, and that sample confirmed that Altamura Man is indeed a Neanderthal who roamed the region between 130,000 and 170,000 years ago, they write in the Journal of Human Evolution.

"The Altamura Man represents the most complete skeleton of a single nonmodern human ever found," a study co-author from Rome's Sapienza University tells Live Science. "Almost all the bony elements are preserved and undamaged." The DNA could fill in important gaps about the Neanderthal line, but there's a catch: The sample is so degraded that current technology is unable to sequence its genome. Another researcher, however, thinks improvements in DNA-sequencing techniques coming in the near future will fix that. (Another recent archaeological find reveals the timing of Neanderthal-human sex.)