From Aylin Woodward at New Scientist:
It’s a sex-laced mystery. If modern humans didn’t reach Europe until about 60,000 years ago, how has DNA from them turned up in a Neanderthal fossil in Germany from 124,000 years ago?
The answer seems to be that there was a previous migration of early humans – more than 219,000 years ago. One that we’re only just starting to reveal from piecemeal evidence that is DNA extracted from fossilised bones.More.
Note especially, “The results also suggest that Neanderthals had a much greater genetic diversity and larger population than we realised.”
Indeed. A lot of speculation/discussion of Neanderthals pegs them in ways that are better described as “what we believe” than “what we know.” As with anything else in life, one can begin to mistake personal certainty for factual certainty. See, for example, “Neanderthal artwork found: “Academic bombshell” obliterates “lesser human” theory?”
So, why was it a bombshell anyway? As opposed to merely a surprise? Something besides evidence or lack thereof underlies that episode.
Now, if we had turned up Neanderthal handhelds… 😉 ka-boom!!
See also: Neanderthal Man: The long-lost relative turns up again, this time with documents
A deep and abiding need for Neanderthals to be stupid. Why?