A team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, led by Stéphane Peyrégne and Kay Prüfer, have recovered nuclear genome sequences from the femur of an adult Neanderthal discovered in 1937 at Hohlenstein-Stadel Cave (Germany) and the jaw bone of a girl Neanderthal found in 1993 in Scladina Cave (Belgium). Both lived about 120,000 years ago and are prior to most Neanderthals whose genomes have been sequenced to date.
By analyzing and comparing the genomes of both, the Peyrégne and Prüfer team showed that both the adult and the girl were more closely related to the last Neanderthals who lived in the same region up to 80,000 years later than with Siberian Neanderthals.
“The result is really extraordinary,” explains Prüfer in a statement. “And a stark contrast to the turbulent history of changes, mixtures and extinctions seen in modern human history.”
Interestingly, unlike the nuclear genome, the Neanderthal mitochondrial genome of the Hohlenstein-Stadel cave in Germany is quite different from that of later Neanderthals: more than 70 mutations distinguish it from the mitochondrial genomes of other Neanderthals. The researchers suggest that the first European Neanderthals may have inherited DNA from a population not yet described. The conclusions have been published in Science Advances.
“This unknown population could represent an isolated Neanderthal population, yet to be discovered, or it could be from a potentially larger population in Africa related to modern humans,” Peyrégne concludes.