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Scientists have sequenced the oldest human DNA ever, extracted from 430,000-year-old samples of fossilised tooth and a thigh bones, found in Spain’s Sima de los Huesos, which translates to “pit of bones”.
In doing so, the team from Germany has found evidence that the ancient ancestors of modern humans must have split from the ancestors of Neanderthals hundreds of thousands of years earlier than we thought, which means it might be time for us to redraw the human family tree.
Located in the Cueva Mayor-Cueva del Silo cave system in north-central Spain, the Sima de los Huesos archaeological site contains the largest and oldest collection of human remains ever discovered, with more than 6,500 fossilised bone fragments – including over 500 teeth alone – from at least 28 individual hominins having been uncovered so far.More.
But we are told that we have high level of Neanderthal genes as well. So …
This discovery had two significant implications: at least one individual buried in the Sima de los Huesos site was a) not directly related to Neanderthals, and b) was instead directly related to the Denisovans, but existed hundreds of thousands of years earlier than the Denisovans themselves.
So knowing that, who were these Sima hominins exactly, and what do they mean for our understanding of human evolution?
It sounds like the current ancestral human genome claims are a big mess. Probably not of interest, but just for information: If anybody fronted a story this loosely grounded in fact to an old-fashioned night desk editor at a respectable newspaper, they would have been turfed down the back stairs. Why is “human evolution” given a pass?
This means it’s time to start looking for a population of human ancestors that lived between 700,000 to 900,000 years ago to find out where we came from, palaeoanthropologist at University College London, Maria Martinón-Torres told Callaway at Nature Magazine: “She thinks that Homo antecessor, known from 900,000-year-old remains from Spain, is the strongest candidate for the common ancestor, if such specimens can be found in Africa or the Middle East.”
And so, with more knowledge about our incredibly complicated family tree comes less certainty, but that’s the beauty of the scientific method at work.
Okay: “And so, with more knowledge about our incredibly complicated family tree comes less certainty, but that’s the beauty of the scientific method at work.”
So true. But one can’t have less certainty and rigid dogmatism at the same time. Stay turned for more on the rethinking evolution meet.
See also: Human evolution, the skinny
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