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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
Scientists Find Oldest Neanderthal DNA
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 Phys.org. 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.

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"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.)

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