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Neanderthal - Homo Neanderthalensis
A world map of Neanderthal and Denisovan ancestry in modern humans

Date: March 28, 2016
Source: Cell Press

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This map shows the proportion of the genome inferred to be Denisovan in ancestry in diverse non-Africans. The color scale is not linear to allow saturation of the high Denisova proportions in Oceania (bright red) and better visualization of the peak of Denisova proportion in South Asia.
Credit: Sankararaman et al./Current Biology 2016

Most non-Africans possess at least a little bit Neanderthal DNA. But a new map of archaic ancestry--published March 28 in Current Biology--suggests that many bloodlines around the world, particularly of South Asian descent, may actually be a bit more Denisovan, a mysterious population of hominids that lived around the same time as the Neanderthals. The analysis also proposes that modern humans interbred with Denisovans about 100 generations after their trysts with Neanderthals.

The Harvard Medical School/UCLA research team that created the map also used comparative genomics to make predictions about where Denisovan and Neanderthal genes may be impacting modern human biology. While there is still much to uncover, Denisovan genes can potentially be linked to a more subtle sense of smell in Papua New Guineans and high-altitude adaptions in Tibetans. Meanwhile, Neanderthal genes found in people around the world most likely contribute to tougher skin and hair.

"There are certain classes of genes that modern humans inherited from the archaic humans with whom they interbred, which may have helped the modern humans to adapt to the new environments in which they arrived," says senior author David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute. "On the flip side, there was negative selection to systematically remove ancestry that may have been problematic from modern humans. We can document this removal over the 40,000 years since these admixtures occurred."

Reich and lab members, Swapan Mallick and Nick Patterson, teamed up with previous laboratory member Sriram Sankararaman, now an Assistant Professor of computer science at the University of California, Los Angeles, on the project, which found evidence that both Denisovan and Neanderthal ancestry has been lost from the X chromosome, as well as genes expressed in the male testes. They theorize that this has contributed to reduced fertility in males, which is commonly observed in other hybrids between two highly divergent groups of the same species.

The researchers collected their data by comparing known Neanderthal and Denisovan gene sequences across more than 250 genomes from 120 non-African populations publically available through the Simons Genome Diversity Project (there is little evidence for Neanderthal and Denisovan ancestry in Africans). The analysis was carried out by a machine-learning algorithm that could differentiate between components of both kinds of ancestral DNA, which are more similar to one another than to modern humans.

The results showed that individuals from Oceania possess the highest percentage of archaic ancestry and south Asians possess more Denisovan ancestry than previously believed. This reveals previously unknown interbreeding events, particularly in relation to Denisovans. In contrast, Western Eurasians are the non-Africans least likely to have Neanderthal or Denisovan genes. "The interactions between modern humans and archaic humans are complex and perhaps involved multiple events," Reich says.

The study's main limitation is that it relies on the current library of ancient genomes available. The researchers caution against drawing any conclusions about our extinct human ancestors based on the genetics and possible traits that they left behind. "We can't use this data to make claims about what the Denisovans or Neanderthals looked like, what they ate, or what kind of diseases they were susceptible to," says Sankararaman, first author on the paper. "We are still very far from understanding that."

Story Source: Cell Press. "A world map of Neanderthal and Denisovan ancestry in modern humans." ScienceDaily. (accessed March 29, 2016).

Journal Reference:
Sriram Sankararaman, Swapan Mallick, Nick Patterson, David Reich. The Combined Landscape of Denisovan and Neanderthal Ancestry in Present-Day Humans.Current Biology, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.03.037

•Denisovan admixture into modern humans occurred after Neanderthal admixture
•There is more Denisovan ancestry in South Asians than expected from current models
•Denisovan ancestry has been subject to positive and negative selection after admixture
•Male infertility most likely occurred after modern human interbreeding with Denisovans

Some present-day humans derive up to ∼5% [ 1 ] of their ancestry from archaic Denisovans, an even larger proportion than the ∼2% from Neanderthals [ 2 ]. We developed methods that can disambiguate the locations of segments of Denisovan and Neanderthal ancestry in present-day humans and applied them to 257 high-coverage genomes from 120 diverse populations, among which were 20 individual Oceanians with high Denisovan ancestry [ 3 ]. In Oceanians, the average size of Denisovan fragments is larger than Neanderthal fragments, implying a more recent average date of Denisovan admixture in the history of these populations (p = 0.00004). We document more Denisovan ancestry in South Asia than is expected based on existing models of history, reflecting a previously undocumented mixture related to archaic humans (p = 0.0013). Denisovan ancestry, just like Neanderthal ancestry, has been deleterious on a modern human genetic background, as reflected by its depletion near genes. Finally, the reduction of both archaic ancestries is especially pronounced on chromosome X and near genes more highly expressed in testes than other tissues (p = 1.2 × 10−7 to 3.2 × 10−7 for Denisovan and 2.2 × 10−3 to 2.9 × 10−3 for Neanderthal ancestry even after controlling for differences in level of selective constraint across gene classes). This suggests that reduced male fertility may be a general feature of mixtures of human populations diverged by >500,000 years. 
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No trace of Neanderthal DNA on Y chromosome of modern men

ABC Science By Bianca Nogrady
Updated about 8 hours ago

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The Neanderthal Y chromosome was distinct from any Y chromosome observed in modern humans (Flickr: erix)

Modern men have no traces of Neanderthal DNA on their Y chromosome, the first-ever analysis of the male Neanderthal sex chromosome has revealed.

Key points
  • All sequencing of Neanderthal genome had until now been done on females

  • Chromosome is different to modern human Y chromosome

  • Contains mutations in immune system genes

  • Genetic incompatibility may have caused miscarriages of male hybrid offspring
The disappearance of the Neanderthal Y chromosome may be due to genetic incompatibilities between the two species that led to miscarriages, suggests a study published today in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

The Y chromosome is passed exclusively from father to son.

Until now, all sequencing of the Neanderthal genome had been done on females because those happened to be the specimens that provided enough good-quality DNA, the study's lead author, Dr Fernando Mendez of Stanford University, said.

"Characterising the Neanderthal Y chromosome helps us to better understand the population divergence that led to Neanderthals and modern humans," he said.

"It also enables us to explore possible genetic interactions between archaic and modern [gene] variants within hybrid offspring."

It is widely known that modern non-Africans have around 2.5 to 4 per cent Neanderthal DNA in their genes, but the Y chromosome is special, Dr Mendez said.

"Either you get the whole Y chromosome, or you get nothing," he said.

Analysis compared ancient and modern Y chromosomes

Dr Mendez and his colleagues compared the Y chromosome of a 49,000 year-old Neanderthal male found in El Sidron in Spain, with the Y chromosome from two modern humans.

Their analysis supports earlier data that estimated Neanderthals and modern humans diverged from their common ancestor around 588,000 years ago.

They also found the Neanderthal Y chromosome was distinct from any Y chromosome observed in modern humans, suggesting the lineage is extinct.

The researchers then searched for evidence that would explain why the Neanderthal Y chromosome disappeared.

"The Y chromosome has a number of genes that are specific for male functions, like making sperm, so we said maybe we'd find something in one of those, but we didn't," Dr Mendez said.

These genes did contain mutations that distinguished Neanderthals from modern humans, but none would have adversely affected their function.

Genetic incompatibility may have caused miscarriages

But the team identified mutations on three genes on the Neanderthal Y chromosome connected to immune factors called the minor histocompatibility antigens.

When these antigens, which are only found in males, are mismatched they can cause women to reject organ transplants from men as well as have miscarriages after the birth of their first child, Dr Mendez said.

This may have had serious consequences for the offspring of Neanderthal and modern human interbreeding; a male foetus could have sensitised his mother's immune system so any subsequent male offspring would be at greatly increased risk of being miscarried.

"If they have fewer boys than other couples, then systematically boys are likely to have fewer boys," said Dr Mendez.

Over time the Neanderthal Y chromosome would be lost in favour of the modern human Y chromosome.

However, Dr Mendez stressed this was still only a hypothesis.

"The amount of Neanderthal DNA in modern humans nowadays is relatively low so it could have been lost by drift," he said.

But reduced fertility or viability of hybrid offspring with Neanderthal Y chromosomes is consistent with an observation known as Haldane's rule.

"Haldane's rule says basically that when you have a cross of differential populations, the male offspring are the ones that have more trouble," Dr Mendez said.

Dr Mendez said he hoped other Neanderthal samples would reveal more about the Neanderthal man.

Journal Reference:
Fernando L. Mendez, G. David Poznik, Sergi Castellano, Carlos D. Bustamante The Divergence of Neandertal and Modern Human Y Chromosomes Volume 98, Issue 4, p728–734, 7 April 2016 DOI:

Sequencing the genomes of extinct hominids has reshaped our understanding of modern human origins. Here, we analyze ∼120 kb of exome-captured Y-chromosome DNA from a Neandertal individual from El Sidrón, Spain. We investigate its divergence from orthologous chimpanzee and modern human sequences and find strong support for a model that places the Neandertal lineage as an outgroup to modern human Y chromosomes—including A00, the highly divergent basal haplogroup. We estimate that the time to the most recent common ancestor (TMRCA) of Neandertal and modern human Y chromosomes is ∼588 thousand years ago (kya) (95% confidence interval [CI]: 447–806 kya). This is ∼2.1 (95% CI: 1.7–2.9) times longer than the TMRCA of A00 and other extant modern human Y-chromosome lineages. This estimate suggests that the Y-chromosome divergence mirrors the population divergence of Neandertals and modern human ancestors, and it refutes alternative scenarios of a relatively recent or super-archaic origin of Neandertal Y chromosomes. The fact that the Neandertal Y we describe has never been observed in modern humans suggests that the lineage is most likely extinct. We identify protein-coding differences between Neandertal and modern human Y chromosomes, including potentially damaging changes to PCDH11Y, TMSB4Y, USP9Y, and KDM5D. Three of these changes are missense mutations in genes that produce male-specific minor histocompatibility (H-Y) antigens. Antigens derived from KDM5D, for example, are thought to elicit a maternal immune response during gestation. It is possible that incompatibilities at one or more of these genes played a role in the reproductive isolation of the two groups. 
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Discovery adds rock collecting to Neanderthal's repertoire
Interesting limestone rock found at Croatian Neanderthal site

Date: January 17, 2017
Source: University of Kansas
Researchers have discovered a brownish piece of split limestone in a site in Croatia that suggests Neanderthals 130,000 years ago collected the rock that stands out among all other items in the cave.

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"Clam-shell" view of Side A and B showing black dendrites against the background of the brown mudstone. The flake, only shown re-attached on Side A, is the result of a post-excavation fracture of the specimen. Arrows point to large inclusion visible on Sides A and B. An international research team that includes Davorka Radov?i?, Croatian Natural History Museum, curator, and David Frayer, University of Kansas, professor emeritus of anthropology, discovered a limestone rock recovered from the Krapina Neanderthal site didn't belong in the cave and was evidence a Neanderthal collected it 130,000 years ago.
Credit: David Frayer, University of Kansas

Maybe this Neanderthal was a rock hound?

An international group that includes a University of Kansas researcher has discovered a brownish piece of split limestone in a site in Croatia that suggests Neanderthals 130,000 years ago collected the rock that stands out among all other items in the cave.

"If we were walking and picked up this rock, we would have taken it home," said David Frayer, a professor emeritus of anthropology who was part of the study. "It is an interesting rock."

The finding is important, he said, because it adds to other recent evidence that Neanderthals were capable -- on their own -- of incorporating symbolic objects into their culture. The rock was collected more than 100 years ago from the Krapina Neanderthal site, which has items preserved in the Croatian Natural History Museum in Zagreb, where in recent years the research team has re-examined them.

The group's findings on the collected rock at Krapina were published recently in the French journal Comptes Rendus Palevol. Davorka Radovčić, curator at the Croatian Natural History Museum, was the study's lead author, and Frayer is the corresponding author.

The same research group in a widely recognized 2015 study published a PLOS ONE article about a set of eagle talons from the same Neanderthal site that included cut marks and were fashioned into a piece of jewelry.

"People have often defined Neanderthals as being devoid of any kind of aesthetic feelings, and yet we know that at this site they collected eagle talons and they collected this rock. At other sites, researchers have found they collected shells and used pigments on shells," Frayer said. "There's a little bit of evidence out there to suggest that they weren't the big, dumb creatures that everybody thinks they were."

Similar to the Neanderthal jewelry discovery at Krapina, Frayer credits Radovčić's keen eye in examining all items found at that the site, originally excavated between 1899-1905 and found to contain Neanderthal bones.

The cave at the Krapina site was sandstone, so the split limestone rock stuck out as not deriving from the cave, Frayer said. None of the more than 1,000 lithic items collected from Krapina resemble the rock, but the original archaeologists apparently did nothing more with the rock other than to collect it.

Frayer said the limestone rock -- which is roughly five inches long, four inches high and about a half-inch thick -- did not have any striking platforms or other areas of preparation on the rock's edge, so the research team assumed it was not broken apart.

"The fact that it wasn't modified, to us, it meant that it was brought there for a purpose other than being used as a tool," Frayer said.

There was a small triangular flake that fits with the rock, but the break appeared to be fresh and likely happened well after the specimen was deposited into the sediments of the Krapina site. Perhaps it occurred during transport or storage after the excavation around 1900, he said.

The look of the rock also caught the researchers' eye as many inclusions or black lines on it stood out from the brown limestone. Perhaps that is what made the Neanderthal want to collect it in the first place.

"It looked like it is important," Frayer said. "We went back through all the collected items to make sure there weren't other rocks like it. It just sat there for 100 years like most of the other stuff from the site. The original archaeologists had described stone tools, but didn't pay any attention to this one."

They suspect a Neanderthal collected the rock from a site a few kilometers north of the Krapina site where there were known outcrops of biopelmicritic grey limestone. Either the Neanderthal found it there or the Krapinica stream transported it closer to the site.

The discovery of the rock collection is likely minor compared with other discoveries, such as more modern humans 25,000 years ago making cave paintings in France. However, Frayer said it added to a body of evidence that Neanderthals were capable assigning symbolic significance to objects and went to the effort of collecting them.

The discovery could also provide more clues as to how modern humans developed these traits, he said.

"It adds to the number of other recent studies about Neanderthals doing things that are thought to be unique to modern Homo sapiens," Frayer said. "We contend they had a curiosity and symbolic-like capacities typical of modern humans."

Story Source: University of Kansas. "Discovery adds rock collecting to Neanderthal's repertoire: Interesting limestone rock found at Croatian Neanderthal site." ScienceDaily. (accessed January 17, 2017).

Journal Reference:
Davorka Radovčić, Dražen Japundžić, Ankica Oros Sršen, Jakov Radovčić, David W. Frayer. An interesting rock from Krapina. Comptes Rendus Palevol, 2016; 15 (8): 988 DOI: 10.1016/j.crpv.2016.04.013

Symbolic items are seldom associated with Neandertals and, when they are, many paleoanthropologists consider them to be Neandertal imitations from modern Homo sapiens. At the Croatian site of Krapina dated to MIS 5e or about 130,000 years ago, among many items, a split limestone rock was excavated by Dragutin Gorjanović-Kramberger between 1899-1905. This brownish rock reveals many dark dendritic forms in cross- and longitudinal section. Of more than 1000 lithic items at Krapina, none resemble this specimen and we propose it was collected and not further processed by the Neandertals because of its aesthetic attributes. Along with other examples from sites in western and central Europe and the recent discovery of eight modified white-tailed eagle talons from Krapina, this unique item suggests that Neandertals were capable, on their own, of incorporating symbolic objects into their culture.
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Dental plaque DNA shows Neanderthals used 'aspirin'

Date: March 8, 2017
Source: University of Adelaide

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El Sidron upper jaw: a dental calculus deposit is visible on the rear molar (right) of this Neandertal. This individual was eating poplar, a source of aspirin, and had also consumed moulded vegetation including Penicillium fungus, source of a natural antibiotic.
Credit: Paleoanthropology Group MNCN-CSIC

Ancient DNA found in the dental plaque of Neandertals -- our nearest extinct relative -- has provided remarkable new insights into their behaviour, diet and evolutionary history, including their use of plant-based medicine to treat pain and illness.

Published today in the journal Nature, an international team led by the University of Adelaide's Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) and Dental School, with the University of Liverpool in the UK, revealed the complexity of Neandertal behaviour, including dietary differences between Neandertal groups and knowledge of medication.

"Dental plaque traps microorganisms that lived in the mouth and pathogens found in the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract, as well as bits of food stuck in the teeth -- preserving the DNA for thousands of years," says lead author Dr Laura Weyrich, ARC Discovery Early Career Research Fellow with ACAD.

"Genetic analysis of that DNA 'locked-up' in plaque, represents a unique window into Neandertal lifestyle -- revealing new details of what they ate, what their health was like and how the environment impacted their behaviour."

The international team analysed and compared dental plaque samples from four Neandertals found at the cave sites of Spy in Belgium and El Sidrón in Spain. These four samples range from 42,000 to around 50,000 years old and are the oldest dental plaque ever to be genetically analysed.

"We found that the Neandertals from Spy Cave consumed woolly rhinoceros and European wild sheep, supplemented with wild mushrooms," says Professor Alan Cooper, Director of ACAD. "Those from El Sidrón Cave on the other hand showed no evidence for meat consumption, but appeared instead to have a largely vegetarian diet, comprising pine nuts, moss, mushrooms and tree bark -- showing quite different lifestyles between the two groups."

"One of the most surprising finds, however, was in a Neandertal from El Sidrón, who suffered from a dental abscess visible on the jawbone. The plaque showed that he also had an intestinal parasite that causes acute diarrhoea, so clearly he was quite sick. He was eating poplar, which contains the pain killer salicylic acid (the active ingredient of aspirin), and we could also detect a natural antibiotic mould (Penicillium) not seen in the other specimens."

"Apparently, Neandertals possessed a good knowledge of medicinal plants and their various anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, and seem to be self-medicating. The use of antibiotics would be very surprising, as this is more than 40,000 years before we developed penicillin. Certainly our findings contrast markedly with the rather simplistic view of our ancient relatives in popular imagination."

Neandertals, ancient and modern humans also shared several disease-causing microbes, including the bacteria that cause dental caries and gum disease. The Neandertal plaque allowed reconstruction of the oldest microbial genome yet sequenced -- Methanobrevibacter oralis, a commensal that can be associated with gum disease. Remarkably, the genome sequence suggests Neandertals and humans were swapping pathogens as recently as 180,000 years ago, long after the divergence of the two species.

The team also noted how rapidly the oral microbial community has altered in recent history. The composition of the oral bacterial population in Neandertals and both ancient and modern humans correlated closely with the amount of meat in the diet, with the Spanish Neandertals grouping with chimpanzees and our forager ancestors in Africa. In contrast, the Belgian Neandertal bacteria were similar to early hunter gatherers, and quite close to modern humans and early farmers.

"Not only can we now access direct evidence of what our ancestors were eating, but differences in diet and lifestyle also seem to be reflected in the commensal bacteria that lived in the mouths of both Neandertals and modern humans," says Professor Keith Dobney, from the University of Liverpool.

"Major changes in what we eat have, however, significantly altered the balance of these microbial communities over thousands of years, which in turn continue to have fundamental consequences for our own health and well-being. This extraordinary window on the past is providing us with new ways to explore and understand our evolutionary history through the microorganisms that lived in us and with us."

Story Source: University of Adelaide. "Dental plaque DNA shows Neanderthals used 'aspirin'." ScienceDaily. (accessed March 9, 2017).

Journal Reference:
Laura S. Weyrich, Sebastian Duchene, Julien Soubrier, Luis Arriola, Bastien Llamas, James Breen, Alan G. Morris, Kurt W. Alt, David Caramelli, Veit Dresely, Milly Farrell, Andrew G. Farrer, Michael Francken, Neville Gully, Wolfgang Haak, Karen Hardy, Katerina Harvati, Petra Held, Edward C. Holmes, John Kaidonis, Carles Lalueza-Fox, Marco de la Rasilla, Antonio Rosas, Patrick Semal, Arkadiusz Soltysiak, Grant Townsend, Donatella Usai, Joachim Wahl, Daniel H. Huson, Keith Dobney, Alan Cooper. Neanderthal behaviour, diet, and disease inferred from ancient DNA in dental calculus. Nature, 2017; DOI: 10.1038/nature21674

Recent genomic data have revealed multiple interactions between Neanderthals and modern humans1, but there is currently little genetic evidence regarding Neanderthal behaviour, diet, or disease. Here we describe the shotgun-sequencing of ancient DNA from five specimens of Neanderthal calcified dental plaque (calculus) and the characterization of regional differences in Neanderthal ecology. At Spy cave, Belgium, Neanderthal diet was heavily meat based and included woolly rhinoceros and wild sheep (mouflon), characteristic of a steppe environment. In contrast, no meat was detected in the diet of Neanderthals from El Sidrón cave, Spain, and dietary components of mushrooms, pine nuts, and moss reflected forest gathering2, 3. Differences in diet were also linked to an overall shift in the oral bacterial community (microbiota) and suggested that meat consumption contributed to substantial variation within Neanderthal microbiota. Evidence for self-medication was detected in an El Sidrón Neanderthal with a dental abscess4 and a chronic gastrointestinal pathogen (Enterocytozoon bieneusi). Metagenomic data from this individual also contained a nearly complete genome of the archaeal commensal Methanobrevibacter oralis (10.2× depth of coverage)—the oldest draft microbial genome generated to date, at around 48,000 years old. DNA preserved within dental calculus represents a notable source of information about the behaviour and health of ancient hominin specimens, as well as a unique system that is useful for the study of long-term microbial evolution. 
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Why we may have mated with Neanderthals more than 219,000 years ago

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We have a thing for Neanderthals
ZUMA Press, Inc/Alamy Stock Photo

By Aylin Woodward

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.

The story, as far as we knew it, was that the ancestors of modern humans diverged from Neanderthals and Denisovans between 550,000 and 765,000 years ago. While Neanderthals and Denisovans inhabited Eurasia, modern humans stayed in Africa until about 60,000 years ago. Then they entered Europe, too.

There is ample evidence of breeding between Neanderthals and the ancestors of modern humans some 50,000 years ago. “Everyone knows Neanderthals gave us genes,” says Cosimo Posth at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Leipzig, Germany.

Analysis of mitochondrial DNA from a Neanderthal femur found in south-western Germany now adds to evidence that there was earlier interbreeding. The DNA in the energy-producing mitochondria in our cells is different from that in our cell nuclei, and is passed only down the female line.

Puzzlingly, the mtDNA in Neanderthal bones is more similar to that of modern humans than it is to that of the Denisovans.

Posth and his colleagues looked at differences between the mtDNA in this femur and in other Neanderthals, and used mutational rates to calculate that the bone is 124,000 years old. The approach also indicates that this Neanderthal split from all other known Neanderthals sometime between 316,000 and 219,000 years ago. Yet it still contains key elements of early human mtDNA.

This means that modern human ancestors must have interbred with Neanderthals before 219,000 years ago Ð and hence could have migrated out of Africa and into Europe much earlier than we thought.

Cultural swaps

“We are realising more and more that the evolutionary history of modern and archaic humans was a lot more reticulated than we would have thought 10 years ago,” says team member Fernando Racimo of the New York Genome Center. “This and previous findings are lending support to models with frequent interbreeding events.”

The team says an earlier migration event is also compatible with evidence of archaeological similarities between Africa and western Eurasia. “It would be interesting to analyse multiple lines of evidence of possible connectivity between continents and see if there was potential contact that spread not only genes but also cultural information,” Posth says.

The results also suggest that Neanderthals had a much greater genetic diversity and larger population than we realised.

This study broadens our view, from the genetic perspective, of who the Neanderthals were as a species, says Toomas Kivisild at the University of Cambridge. “Previous work based on more than a dozen Neanderthal samples whose mitochondrial DNA had been sequenced has portrayed Neanderthals as a species of very low effective population size and genetic diversity,” he says.

Journal reference: 
Posth, C. et al. Deeply divergent archaic mitochondrial genome provides lower time boundary for African gene flow into Neanderthals. Nat. Commun. 8, 16046 doi: 10.1038/ncomms16046 (2017).

Ancient DNA is revealing new insights into the genetic relationship between Pleistocene hominins and modern humans. Nuclear DNA indicated Neanderthals as a sister group of Denisovans after diverging from modern humans. However, the closer affinity of the Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) to modern humans than Denisovans has recently been suggested as the result of gene flow from an African source into Neanderthals before 100,000 years ago. Here we report the complete mtDNA of an archaic femur from the Hohlenstein–Stadel (HST) cave in southwestern Germany. HST carries the deepest divergent mtDNA lineage that splits from other Neanderthals ∼270,000 years ago, providing a lower boundary for the time of the putative mtDNA introgression event. We demonstrate that a complete Neanderthal mtDNA replacement is feasible over this time interval even with minimal hominin introgression. The highly divergent HST branch is indicative of greater mtDNA diversity during the Middle Pleistocene than in later periods. 
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Reconstructing how Neanderthals grew, based on an El Sidrón child
Neanderthal growth rate is very similar to that of Homo sapiens

Date: September 21, 2017
Source: Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

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Skeleton of the Neanderthal boy recovered from the El Sidrón cave (Asturias, Spain). This material relates to a paper that appeared in the Sept. 22, 2017, issue of Science, published by AAAS. The paper, by A. Rosas at Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (MNCN)-Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) in Madrid, Spain, and colleagues was titled, "The growth pattern of Neandertals, reconstructed from a juvenile skeleton from El Sidrón (Spain)."
Credit: Paleoanthropology Group MNCN-CSIC

How did Neanderthals grow? Does modern man develop in the same way as Homo neanderthalensis did? How does the size of the brain affect the development of the body? A study led by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) researcher, Antonio Rosas, has studied the fossil remains of a Neanderthal child's skeleton in order to establish whether there are differences between the growth of Neanderthals and that of sapiens.

According to the results of the article, which are published in Science, both species regulate their growth differently to adapt their energy consumption to their physical characteristics.

"Discerning the differences and similarities in growth patterns between Neanderthals and modern humans helps us better define our own history. Modern humans and Neanderthals emerged from a common recent ancestor, and this is manifested in a similar overall growth rate," explains CSIC researcher, Antonio Rosas, from Spain's National Natural Science Museum (MNCN). As fellow CSIC researcher Luis Ríos highlights, "Applying paediatric growth assessment methods, this Neanderthal child is no different to a modern-day child." The pattern of vertebral maturation and brain growth, as well as energy constraints during development, may have marked the anatomical shape of Neanderthals.

Neanderthals had a greater cranial capacity than today's humans. Neanderthal adults had an intracranial volume of 1,520 cubic centimetres, while that of modern adult man is 1,195 cubic centimetres. That of the Neanderthal child in the study had reached 1,330 cubic centimetres at the time of his death, in other words, 87.5% of the total reached at eight years of age. At that age, the development of a modern-day child's cranial capacity has already been fully completed.

"Developing a large brain involves significant energy expenditure and, consequently, this hinders the growth of other parts of the body. In sapiens, the development of the brain during childhood has a high energetic cost and, as a result, the development of the rest of the body slows down," Rosas explains.

Neanderthals and sapiens

The cost, in terms of energy, of anatomical growth of the modern brain is unusually high, especially during breastfeeding and during infancy, and this seems to require a slowing down of body growth. The growth and development of this juvenile Neanderthal matches the typical characteristics of human ontogeny, where there is a slow anatomical growth between weaning and puberty. This could compensate for the immense energy cost of developing such a large brain.

In fact, the skeleton and dentition of this Neanderthal present a physiology which is similar to that of a sapiens of the same age, except for the thorax area, which corresponds to a child between five and six years, in that it is less developed. "The growth of our Neanderthal child was not complete, probably due to energy saving," explains CSIC researcher Antonio Rosas.

The only divergent aspect in the growth of both species is the moment of maturation of the vertebral column. In all hominids, the cartilaginous joints of the middle thoracic vertebrae and the atlas are the last to fuse, but in this Neanderthal, fusion occurred about two years later than in modern humans.

"The delay of this fusion in the vertebral column may indicate that Neanderthals had a decoupling of certain aspects in the transition from infancy to the juvenile phase. Although the implications are unknown, this feature could be related to the characteristic enlarged shape of the Neanderthal torso, or slower brain growth," says Rosas.

The Neanderthal child

The protagonist of this study was 7.7 years old, weighed 26 kilos and measured 111 centimetres at the time of death. Although the genetic analyses failed to confirm the child's sex, the canine teeth and the sturdiness of the bones showed that it to be a male. 138 pieces, 30 of them teeth (including some milk teeth), and part of the skeleton- including some fragments of the skull from the individual- identified as El Sidrón J1, have recovered.

The researchers have been able to establish that our protagonist was right-handed and was already performing adult tasks, such as using his teeth as a third hand to handle skins and plant fibres. In addition, they know who his mother was, and that the child protagonist of this investigation had a younger brother in the group. Furthermore, this child was found to have suffered from enamel hypoplasia when he was two or three years old. Hypoplasia (white spots on the teeth, especially visible in the upper incisors), occurs when the teeth have less enamel than normal, the cause usually being malnutrition or disease.

Discovered in 1994, the El Sidrón cave, located in Piloña (in Asturias, northern Spain) has provided the best collection of Neanderthals that exists on the Iberian Peninsula. The team has recovered the remains of 13 individuals from the cave. The group consisted of seven adults (four women and three men), three teenagers and three younger children.

Previous studies have been carried out by a multidisciplinary team led by the paleoanthropologist Antonio Rosas (CSIC's National Museum of Natural Sciences), the geneticist Carles Lalueza-Fox (Institute of Evolutionary Biology, run by CSIC and the Pompeu Fabra University) and by the archaeologist Marco de la Rasilla (University of Oviedo).

Story Source: Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). "Reconstructing how Neanderthals grew, based on an El Sidrón child: Neanderthal growth rate is very similar to that of Homo sapiens." ScienceDaily. (accessed September 22, 2017).

Journal Reference:
Antonio Rosas, Luis Ríos, Almudena Estalrrich, Helen Liversidge, Antonio García-Tabernero, Rosa Huguet, Hugo Cardoso, Markus Bastir, Carles Lalueza-Fox, Marco De La Rasilla, Christopher Dean. The growth pattern of Neandertals, reconstructed from a juvenile skeleton from El Sidrón (Spain). Science, 2017; Vol. 357, Issue 6357, pp. 1282-1287 DOI: 10.1126/science.aan6463

Ontogenetic studies help us understand the processes of evolutionary change. Previous studies on Neandertals have focused mainly on dental development and inferred an accelerated pace of general growth. We report on a juvenile partial skeleton (El Sidrón J1) preserving cranio-dental and postcranial remains. We used dental histology to estimate the age at death to be 7.7 years. Maturation of most elements fell within the expected range of modern humans at this age. The exceptions were the atlas and mid-thoracic vertebrae, which remained at the 5- to 6-year stage of development. Furthermore, endocranial features suggest that brain growth was not yet completed. The vertebral maturation pattern and extended brain growth most likely reflect Neandertal physiology and ontogenetic energy constraints rather than any fundamental difference in the overall pace of growth in this extinct human.
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Older Neanderthal survived with a little help from his friends
Despite deafness, missing forearm and limp, he lived into his 40s

Date: October 23, 2017
Source: Washington University in St. Louis

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The skull of a Neanderthal known as Shanidar 1 shows signs of a blow to the head received at an early age.
Credit: Erik Trinkaus

An older Neanderthal from about 50,000 years ago, who had suffered multiple injuries and other degenerations, became deaf and must have relied on the help of others to avoid prey and survive well into his 40s, indicates a new analysis published Oct. 20 in the online journal PLoS ONE.

"More than his loss of a forearm, bad limp and other injuries, his deafness would have made him easy prey for the ubiquitous carnivores in his environment and dependent on other members of his social group for survival," said Erik Trinkaus, study co-author and professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

Known as Shanidar 1, the Neanderthal remains were discovered in 1957 during excavations at Shanidar Cave in Iraqi Kurdistan by Ralph Solecki, an American archeologist and professor emeritus at Columbia University.

Previous studies of the Shanidar 1 skull and other skeletal remains had noted his multiple injuries. He sustained a serious blow to the side of the face, fractures and the eventual amputation of the right arm at the elbow, and injuries to the right leg, as well as a systematic degenerative condition.

In a new analysis of the remains, Trinkaus and Sébastien Villotte of the French National Centre for Scientific Research confirm that bony growths in Shanidar 1's ear canals would have produced profound hearing loss. In addition to his other debilitations, this sensory deprivation would have made him highly vulnerable in his Pleistocene context.

As the co-authors note, survival as a hunter-gatherer in the Pleistocene presented numerous challenges, and all of those difficulties would have been markedly pronounced with sensory impairment. Like other Neanderthals who have been noted for surviving with various injuries and limited arm use, Shanidar 1 most likely required significant social support to reach old age.

"The debilities of Shanidar 1, and especially his hearing loss, thereby reinforce the basic humanity of these much maligned archaic humans, the Neanderthals," said Trinkaus, the Mary Tileston Hemenway Professor.

Story Source: Washington University in St. Louis. "Older Neanderthal survived with a little help from his friends: Despite deafness, missing forearm and limp, he lived into his 40s." ScienceDaily. (accessed October 24, 2017).

Journal Reference:
Erik Trinkaus, Sébastien Villotte. External auditory exostoses and hearing loss in the Shanidar 1 Neandertal. PLOS ONE, 2017; 12 (10): e0186684 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0186684

The Late Pleistocene Shanidar 1 older adult male Neandertal is known for the crushing fracture of his left orbit with a probable reduction in vision, the loss of his right forearm and hand, and evidence of an abnormal gait, as well as probable diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis. He also exhibits advanced external auditory exostoses in his left auditory meatus and larger ones with complete bridging across the porus in the right meatus (both Grade 3). These growths indicate at least unilateral conductive hearing (CHL) loss, a serious sensory deprivation for a Pleistocene hunter-gatherer. This condition joins the meatal atresia of the Middle Pleistocene Atapuerca-SH Cr.4 in providing evidence of survival with conductive hearing loss (and hence serious sensory deprivation) among these Pleistocene humans. The presence of CHL in these fossils thereby reinforces the paleobiological and archeological evidence for supporting social matrices among these Pleistocene foraging peoples.

How Neanderthals influenced human genetics at the crossroads of Asia and Europe
The region holds a unique position in the story of human evolution

Date: October 24, 2017
Source: University at Buffalo
A new study explores the genetic legacy of ancient trysts between Neanderthals and the ancestors of modern humans, with a focus on Western Asia, the region where the first relations may have occurred.

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Scientists are examining DNA sequences we have inherited from Neanderthals. (stock image)
Credit: © procy_ab / Fotolia

When the ancestors of modern humans migrated out of Africa, they passed through the Middle East and Turkey before heading deeper into Asia and Europe.

Here, at this important crossroads, it's thought that they encountered and had sexual rendezvous with a different hominid species: the Neanderthals. Genomic evidence shows that this ancient interbreeding occurred, and Western Asia is the most likely spot where it happened.

A new study explores the legacy of these interspecies trysts, with a focus on Western Asia, where the first relations may have occurred. The research, published on Oct. 13 in Genome Biology and Evolution, analyzes the genetic material of people living in the region today, identifying DNA sequences inherited from Neanderthals.

"As far as human history goes, this area was the stepping stone for the peopling of all of Eurasia," says Omer Gokcumen, PhD, an assistant professor of biological sciences in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences. "This is where humans first settled when they left Africa. It may be where they first met Neanderthals. From the standpoint of genetics, it's a very interesting region."

The study focused on Western Asia. As part of the project, scientists analyzed 16 genomes belonging to people of Turkish descent.

"Within these genomes, the areas where we see relatively common Neanderthal introgression are in genes related to metabolism and immune system responses," says Recep Ozgur Taskent, the study's first author and a UB PhD candidate in biological sciences. "Broadly speaking, these are functions that can have an impact on health."

For example, one DNA sequence that originated from Neanderthals includes a genetic variant linked to celiac disease. Another includes a variant tied to a lowered risk for malaria.

The bottom line? The relations that our ancestors had with Neanderthals tens of thousands of years ago may continue to exert an influence on our well-being today, Gokcumen says.

He led the study with Taskent and Mehmet Somel, PhD, from the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey. Co-authors included Nursen Duha Alioglu and Evrim Fer from the Middle East Technical University, and Handan Melike Donertas from the Middle East Technical University and European Bioinformatics Institute.

Early contact with Neanderthals, but relatively little Neanderthal DNA

In addition to exploring the specific functions of genetic material that the Turkish population inherited from Neanderthals, the study also examined the Neanderthals' influence on human populations in Western Asia more broadly.

The region is thought to be where modern humans first interbred with their Neanderthal kin. And yet, research has shown that people living in this area today have relatively little Neanderthal DNA compared to people in other parts of the world.

The new study supports this finding. The research team analyzed genomic data from dozens of Western Asian individuals, and observed that, on average, with a few exceptions, these populations carry less Neanderthal DNA than Europeans, Central Asians and East Asians.

The differences in Neanderthal ancestry between Western Asian and other populations may be due to the region's unique position in human history, Taskent says.

Tens of thousands of years ago, when modern humans first left Africa to populate the rest of the world, Western Asia was the first stopping point -- the only land-based route for accessing the rest of Eurasia.

People who live in Europe, Central Asia and East Asia today may be descended from human populations that treated Western Asia as a waystation: These human populations lived there temporarily, mating with the region's Neanderthals before moving on to other destinations.

In contrast, the ancestors of present-day Western Asians had a deeper connection to the region: They settled in Western Asia instead of just passing through. These ancient humans had contact with Neanderthals, too, but two factors may have diluted the Neanderthals' influence.

The first was a constant influx of genetic material from ancient Africans, who had no Neanderthal DNA and who continued to pass through Western Asia for thousands of years as human societies grew in Europe and Asia. The second was the hypothesized presence of a "basal Eurasian" population -- a population of Western Asians that never interbred with Neanderthals.

"Both of these factors may have helped to limit the amount of Neanderthal DNA that was retained by human populations in the region," Taskent says.

Story Source: University at Buffalo. "How Neanderthals influenced human genetics at the crossroads of Asia and Europe: The region holds a unique position in the story of human evolution." ScienceDaily. (accessed October 25, 2017).

Journal Reference:
Recep Ozgur Taskent, Duha Alioglu, Evrim Fer, Handan Melike Donertas, Mehmet Somel, Omer Gokcumen. Variation and functional impact of Neanderthal ancestry in Western Asia. Genome Biology and Evolution, 2017; DOI: 10.1093/gbe/evx216

Neanderthals contributed genetic material to modern humans via multiple admixture events. Initial admixture events presumably occurred in Western Asia shortly after humans migrated out-of-Africa. Despite being a focal point of admixture, earlier studies indicate lower Neanderthal introgression rates in some Western Asian populations as compared to other Eurasian populations. To better understand the genome-wide and phenotypic impact of Neanderthal introgression in the region, we sequenced whole genomes of 10 present-day Europeans, Africans, and the Western Asian Druze at high depth, and analyzed available whole genome data from various other populations, including 16 genomes from present-day Turkey. Our results confirmed previous observations that contemporary Western Asian populations, on average, have lower levels of Neanderthal-introgressed DNA relative to other Eurasian populations. Modern Western Asians also show comparatively high variability in Neanderthal ancestry, which may be attributed to the complex demographic history of the region. We further replicated the previously described depletion of putatively functional sequences among Neanderthal-introgressed haplotypes. Still, we find dozens of common Neanderthal-introgressed haplotypes in the Turkish sample associated with human phenotypes, including anthropometric and metabolic traits, as well as the immune response. One of these haplotypes is unusually long and harbors variants that affect the expression of members of the CCR gene family and are associated with celiac disease. Overall, our results paint a complex first picture of the genomic impact of Neanderthal introgression in the Western Asian populations.
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Height and weight evolved at different speeds in the bodies of our ancestors

Date: November 8, 2017
Source: University of Cambridge
The largest study to date of body sizes over millions of years finds a 'pulse and stasis' pattern to hominin evolution, with surges of growth in stature and bulk occurring at different times. At one stage, our ancestors got taller around a million years before body mass caught up.

[Image: 171108092241_1_900x600.jpg]
Femoral head bones of different species illustrating the size range in the hominin lineage. From top to bottom: Australopithecus afarensis (4-3 million years; ~40 kg, 130 cm); Homo ergaster (1.9-1.4 million years; 55-60 kg; ~165 cm); Neanderthal (200.000-30.000 years; ~70 kg; ~163 cm).
Credit: University of Cambridge

A wide-ranging new study of fossils spanning over four million years suggests that stature and body mass advanced at different speeds during the evolution of hominins -- the ancestral lineage of which Homo sapiens alone still exist.

Published today in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the research also shows that, rather than steadily increasing in size, hominin bodies evolved in "pulse and stasis" fluctuations, with some lineages even shrinking.

The findings are from the largest study of hominin body sizes, involving 311 specimens dating from earliest upright species of 4.4m years ago right through to the modern humans that followed the last ice age.

While researchers describe the physical evolution of assorted hominin species as a "long and winding road with many branches and dead ends," they say that broad patterns in the data suggest bursts of growth at key stages, followed by plateaus where little changed for many millennia.

The scientists were surprised to find a "decoupling" of bulk and stature around one and a half million years ago, when hominins grew roughly 10cm taller but would not consistently gain any heft for a further million years, with an average increase of 10-15kgs occurring around 500,000 years ago.

Before this event, height and weight in hominin species appeared to evolve roughly "in concert," say the authors of this first study to jointly analyse both aspects of body size over millions of years.

"An increase solely in stature would have created a leaner physique, with long legs and narrow hips and shoulders. This may have been an adaptation to new environments and endurance hunting, as early Homo species left the forests and moved on to more arid African savannahs," says lead author Dr Manuel Will from Cambridge's Department of Archaeology, and a Research Fellow at Gonville and Caius College.

"The higher surface-to-volume ratio of a tall, slender body would be an advantage when stalking animals for hours in the dry heat, as a larger skin area increases the capacity for the evaporation of sweat."

"The later addition of body mass coincides with ever-increasing migrations into higher latitudes, where a bulkier body would be better suited for thermoregulation in colder Eurasian climates," he says.

However, Dr Will points out that, while these are valid theories, vast gaps in the fossil record continue to mask absolute truths. In fact, Will and colleagues often had to estimate body sizes from highly fragmented remains -- in some cases from just a single toe bone.

The study found body size to be highly variable during earlier hominin history, with a range of differently shaped species: from broad, gorilla-like Paranthropus to the more wiry or 'gracile' Australopithecus afarensis. Hominins from four million years ago weighed a rough average of 25kg and stood at 125-130cm.

As physicality morphs over deep time, increasingly converging on larger body sizes, the scientists observe three key "pulses" of significant change.

The first occurs with the dawn of our own defined species bracket, Homo, around 2.2-1.9m years ago. This period sees a joint surge in both height (around 20 cm) and weight (between 15-20kg).

Stature then separated from heft with a height increase alone of 10cm between 1.4-1.6m years ago, shortly after the emergence of Homo erectus. "From a modern perspective this is where we see a familiar stature reached and maintained. Body mass, however, is still some way off," explains Will.

It's not until a million years later (0.5-0.4m years ago) that consistently heavier hominins appear in the fossil record, with an estimated 10-15kg greater body mass signalling adaptation to environments north of the Mediterranean.

"From then onwards, average body height and weight stays more or less the same in the hominin lineage, leading ultimately to ourselves," says Will.

There are, however, a couple of exceptions to this grand narrative: Homo naledi and Homo floresiensis*. Recently discovered remains suggest these species swam against the tide of increasing body size through time.

"They may have derived from much older small-bodied ancestors, or adapted to evolutionary pressures occurring in small and isolated populations," says Will. Floresiensis was discovered on an Indonesian island.

"Our study shows that, other than these two species, hominins that appear after 1.4m years ago are all larger than 140cm and 40kg. This doesn't change until human bodies diversify again in just the last few thousand years."

"These findings suggest extremely strong selective pressures against small body sizes which shifted the evolutionary spectrum towards the larger bodies we have today."

Will and colleagues say evolutionary pressures that may have contributed include 'cladogenesis': the splitting of a lineage, with one line -- the smaller-bodied one, in this case -- becoming extinct, perhaps as a result of inter-species competition.

They also suggest that sexual dimorphism -- the physical distinction between genders, with females typically smaller in mammals -- was more prevalent in early hominin species but then steadily ironed out by evolution.

Study co-author Dr Jay Stock, also from Cambridge's Department of Archaeology, suggests this growth trajectory may continue.

"Many human groups have continued to get taller over just the past century. With improved nutrition and healthcare, average statures will likely continue to rise in the near future. However, there is certainly a ceiling set by our genes, which define our maximum potential for growth," Stock says.

"Body size is one of the most important determinants of the biology of every organism on the planet," adds Will. "Reconstructing the evolutionary history of body size has the potential to provide us with insights into the development of locomotion, brain complexity, feeding strategies, even social life."


*Both Homo naledi and Homo floresiensis are of a surprisingly young age, says Will: between ~300,000 and 100,000-60,000 years respectively

Story Source: University of Cambridge. "Height and weight evolved at different speeds in the bodies of our ancestors." ScienceDaily. (accessed November 8, 2017).

Journal Reference:
Manuel Will, Adrián Pablos, Jay T. Stock. Long-term patterns of body mass and stature evolution within the hominin lineage. Royal Society Open Science, 2017; 4 (11): 171339 DOI: 10.1098/rsos.171339

Body size is a central determinant of a species' biology and adaptive strategy, but the number of reliable estimates of hominin body mass and stature have been insufficient to determine long-term patterns and subtle interactions in these size components within our lineage. Here, we analyse 254 body mass and 204 stature estimates from a total of 311 hominin specimens dating from 4.4 Ma to the Holocene using multi-level chronological and taxonomic analytical categories. The results demonstrate complex temporal patterns of body size variation with phases of relative stasis intermitted by periods of rapid increases. The observed trajectories could result from punctuated increases at speciation events, but also differential proliferation of large-bodied taxa or the extinction of small-bodied populations. Combined taxonomic and temporal analyses show that in relation to australopithecines, early Homo is characterized by significantly larger average body mass and stature but retains considerable diversity, including small body sizes. Within later Homo, stature and body mass evolution follow different trajectories: average modern stature is maintained from ca 1.6 Ma, while consistently higher body masses are not established until the Middle Pleistocene at ca 0.5–0.4 Ma, likely caused by directional selection related to colonizing higher latitudes. Selection against small-bodied individuals (less than 40 kg; less than 140 cm) after 1.4 Ma is associated with a decrease in relative size variability in later Homo species compared with earlier Homo and australopithecines. The isolated small-bodied individuals of Homo naledi (ca 0.3 Ma) and Homo floresiensis (ca 100–60 ka) constitute important exceptions to these general patterns, adding further layers of complexity to the evolution of body size within the genus Homo. At the end of the Late Pleistocene and Holocene, body size in Homo sapiens declines on average, but also extends to lower limits not seen in comparable frequency since early Homo.

Attached to this post:[Image: attach.png] Long_term_patterns_of_body_mass_and_stature_evolution_within_the_hominin_lineage.pdf (1.37 MB)
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Human evolution was uneven and punctuated
A new study in Heliyon suggests that Neanderthals survived at least 3,000 years longer in Spain than we thought

Date: November 16, 2017
Source: Elsevier

[Image: 171116132657_1_900x600.jpg]
Interior view of the cave and excavation trench as of the end of the 2012 field season.
Credit: João Zilhão

Neanderthals survived at least 3,000 years longer than we thought in Southern Iberia -- what is now Spain -- long after they had died out everywhere else, according to new research published in Heliyon.

The authors of the study, an international team from Portuguese, Spanish, Catalonian, German, Austrian and Italian research institutions, say their findings suggest that the process of modern human populations absorbing Neanderthal populations through interbreeding was not a regular, gradual wave-of-advance but a "stop-and-go, punctuated, geographically uneven history."

Over more than ten years of fieldwork, the researchers excavated three new sites in southern Spain, where they discovered evidence of distinctly Neanderthal materials dating until 37,000 years ago.

"Technology from the Middle Paleolithic in Europe is exclusively associated with the Neanderthals," said Dr. João Zilhão, from the University of Barcelona and lead author of the study. "In three new excavation sites, we found Neanderthal artefacts dated to thousands of years later than anywhere else in Western Europe. Even in the adjacent regions of northern Spain and southern France the latest Neanderthal sites are all significantly older."

The Middle Paleolithic was a part of the Stone Age, and it spanned from 300,000 to 30,000 years ago. It is widely acknowledged that during this time, anatomically modern humans started to move out of Africa and assimilate coeval Eurasian populations, including Neanderthals, through interbreeding.

According to the new research, this process was not a straightforward, smooth one -- instead, it seems to have been punctuated, with different evolutionary patterns in different geographical regions.

In 2010, the team published evidence from the site of Cueva Antón in Spain that provided unambiguous evidence for symbolism among Neanderthals. Putting that evidence in context and using the latest radiometric techniques to date the site, the researchers show Cueva Antón is the most recent known Neanderthal site.

"We believe that the stop-and-go, punctuated, uneven mechanism we propose must have been the rule in human evolution, which helps explaining why Paleolithic material culture tends to form patterns of geographically extensive similarity while Paleolithic genomes tend to show complex ancestry patchworks," commented Dr. Zilhão.

The key to understanding this pattern, says Dr. Zilhão, lies in discovering and analyzing new sites, not in revisiting old ones. Although finding and excavating new sites with the latest techniques is time-consuming, he believes it is the approach that pays off.

"There is still a lot we do not know about human evolution and, especially, about the Neanderthals," said Dr. Zilhão. "Our textbook ideas about Neanderthals and modern humans have been mostly derived from finds in France, Germany and Central Europe, but during the Ice Ages these were peripheral areas: probably as much as half of the Paleolithic people who ever lived in Europe were Iberians. Ongoing research has begun to bear fruit, and I have no doubt that there is more to come."

Story Source: Elsevier. "Human evolution was uneven and punctuated: A new study in Heliyon suggests that Neanderthals survived at least 3,000 years longer in Spain than we thought." ScienceDaily. (accessed November 17, 2017).

Journal Reference:
João Zilhão, Daniela Anesin, Thierry Aubry, Ernestina Badal, Dan Cabanes, Martin Kehl, Nicole Klasen, Armando Lucena, Ignacio Martín-Lerma, Susana Martínez, Henrique Matias, Davide Susini, Peter Steier, Eva Maria Wild, Diego E. Angelucci, Valentín Villaverde, Josefina Zapata. Precise dating of the Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic transition in Murcia (Spain) supports late Neandertal persistence in Iberia. Heliyon, 2017; 3 (11): e00435 DOI: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2017.e00435

The late persistence in Southern Iberia of a Neandertal-associated Middle Paleolithic is supported by the archeological stratigraphy and the radiocarbon and luminescence dating of three newly excavated localities in the Mula basin of Murcia (Spain). At Cueva Antón, Mousterian layer I-k can be no more than 37,100 years-old. At La Boja, the basal Aurignacian can be no less than 36,500 years-old. The regional Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic transition process is thereby bounded to the first half of the 37th millennium Before Present, in agreement with evidence from Andalusia, Gibraltar and Portugal. This chronology represents a lag of minimally 3000 years with the rest of Europe, where that transition and the associated process of Neandertal/modern human admixture took place between 40,000 and 42,000 years ago. The lag implies the presence of an effective barrier to migration and diffusion across the Ebro river depression, which, based on available paleoenvironmental indicators, would at that time have represented a major biogeographical divide. In addition, (a) the Phlegraean Fields caldera explosion, which occurred 39,850 years ago, would have stalled the Neandertal/modern human admixture front because of the population sink it generated in Central and Eastern Europe, and (b) the long period of ameliorated climate that came soon after (Greenland Interstadial 8, during which forests underwent a marked expansion in Iberian regions south of 40°N) would have enhanced the “Ebro Frontier” effect. These findings have two broader paleoanthropological implications: firstly, that, below the Ebro, the archeological record made prior to 37,000 years ago must be attributed, in all its aspects and components, to the Neandertals (or their ancestors); secondly, that modern human emergence is best seen as an uneven, punctuated process during which long-lasting barriers to gene flow and cultural diffusion could have existed across rather short distances, with attendant consequences for ancient genetics and models of human population history. 
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Secrets of famous Neanderthal skeleton La Ferrassie 1 revealed

Date: March 27, 2018
Source: Binghamton University
Anthropologists have provided new insights on one of the most famous Neanderthal skeletons, discovered over 100 years ago: La Ferrassie 1.

[Image: 180327132025_1_540x360.jpg]
An international team of researchers, led by Dr. Asier Gomez-Olivencia of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) and including Binghamton University anthropologist Rolf Quam, has provided new insights on one of the most famous Neandertal skeletons, discovered over 100 years ago: La Ferrassie 1. Nearly all of the fractures were made post-mortem.
Credit: Binghamton University, State University of New York

An international team of researchers, led by Dr. Asier Gomez-Olivencia of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) and including Binghamton University anthropologist Rolf Quam, has provided new insights on one of the most famous Neanderthal skeletons, discovered over 100 years ago: La Ferrassie 1.

"New technological approaches are allowing anthropologists to peer even deeper into the bones of our ancestors," said Quam. "In the case of La Ferrassie 1, these approaches have made it possible to identify new fossil remains and pathological conditions of the original skeleton as well as confirm that this individual was deliberately buried.

The adult male La Ferrassie 1 Neanderthal skeleton was found in 1909 in a French cave site, along with the remains of an adult woman and several Neanderthal children. All of the skeletons were interpreted as representing intentional burials, and the finds sparked much public interest at the time regarding just how human-like the Neanderthals were. The La Ferrassie 1 skeleton, in particular, has been highly influential in Neanderthal studies since its discovery.

La Ferrassie 1 was an old man (likely over 50 years old) who suffered various broken bones during his lifetime and had ongoing respiratory issues when he died. Soon after, he was buried by other members of his group in the La Ferrassie rockshelter, which was repeatedly occupied by Neanderthals during millennia. The skeleton was found in a burial pit and has been dated to between 40,000 and 54,000 years. This skeleton is one of the most important Neanderthal individuals both for its completeness and due to the important role it has played historically in the interpretation of Neanderthal anatomy and lifeways.

Now, researchers have applied some of the latest technological approaches to reveal long-held secrets in the skeleton of this iconic individual. The bones were subjected to high resolution microCT scanning to study the internal anatomy of the skull and several of the bones. The middle ear bones (malleus, incus and stapes) were identified in the scans, held in place inside the skull by sediments from the La Ferrassie cave floor. These are the smallest bones in the human body and are often not preserved in archaeological skeletons, but it was possible to extract 3D virtual models of the bones for analysis. The ear ossicles are complete and help provide a better understanding of the range of variation of this anatomical region in Neanderthals. Several pathological conditions were also identified in the skeleton, including a fracture in the collar bone (clavicle), arthritis of the spine and mild scoliosis. Researchers also examined the archaeological materials from the original excavations and identified several new fragments of vertebrae and ribs of La Ferrassie 1.

Study of the original skeleton and analysis of the fracture pattern of the cranium and long bones relying on modern forensic criteria confirmed that nearly all of the fractures were post-mortem (i.e. after death), when the bones lost collagen and were fractured in situ due to the weight of the overlying sediments. Nevertheless, the anatomical connection between the bones was not affected, confirming the original observations made over a century ago by their discoverers, that the La Ferrassie 1 individual was deliberately buried by other members of their social group.

"This insight has figured prominently in subsequent debates, still ongoing in the field, surrounding Neanderthal cultural practices," said Quam. "The application of new technological approaches to the study of La Ferrassie 1 demonstrates that, over a century after its discovery, this iconic individual is still revealing new insights into Neanderthal anatomy and behavior."

Story Source: Binghamton University. "Secrets of famous Neanderthal skeleton La Ferrassie 1 revealed." ScienceDaily. (accessed March 27, 2018).

Journal Reference:
Asier Gómez-Olivencia, Rolf Quam, Nohemi Sala, Morgane Bardey, James C. Ohman, Antoine Balzeau. La Ferrassie 1: New perspectives on a “classic” Neandertal. Journal of Human Evolution, 2018; 117: 13 DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2017.12.004

The La Ferrassie 1 (LF1) skeleton, discovered over a century ago, is one of the most important Neandertal individuals both for its completeness and due to the role it has played historically in the interpretation of Neandertal anatomy and lifeways. Here we present new skeletal remains from this individual, which include a complete right middle ear ossicular chain (malleus, incus, and stapes), three vertebral fragments, and two costal remains. Additionally, the study of the skeleton has allowed us to identify new pathological lesions, including a congenital variant in the atlas, a greenstick fracture of the left clavicle, and a lesion in a mid-thoracic rib of unknown etiology. In addition, we have quantified the amount of vertebral pathology, which is greater than previously appreciated. We have complemented the paleopathological analysis with a taphonomic analysis to identify any potential perimortem fractures. The taphonomic analysis indicates that no surface alteration is present in the LF1 skeleton and that the breakage pattern is that of bone that has lost collagen, which would be consistent with the intentional burial of this individual proposed by previous researchers. In this study, we used CT and microCT scans in order to discover new skeletal elements to better characterize the pathological lesions and to quantify the fracture orientation of those bones in which the current plaster reconstruction did not allow its direct visualization, which underlines the broad potential of imaging technologies in paleoanthropological research. A century after its discovery, LF1 is still providing new insights into Neandertal anatomy and behavior.
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Neanderthal nose: All the better to breathe with

April 4, 2018

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Neanderthals are thought to have needed up to 4,480 calories a day to keep them alive in the European winter—some of their skulls have been on display as part of a Neanderthal exhibition at the Musee de l'Homme in Paris since last month

Neanderthals had large, protruding noses to warm and humidify cold, dry air, a study into the distinct design of our extinct European cousin's face suggested Wednesday.

Using 3-D models of the skulls of Neanderthals, modern humans, and Homo heidelbergensis—considered to have been the common ancestor of both—an international research team found distinct breathing adaptations.

Computerised "fluid dynamics" revealed that the shape of Neanderthal and human faces "condition air more efficiently" than H. heidelbergensis, suggesting that "both evolved to better withstand cold and/or dry climates," the researchers wrote in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Neanderthals could also move "considerably more" air through their nasal cavity than could H. heidelbergensis or modern humans—possibly in response to higher energy requirements for their stocky bodies and hunting lifestyle.

Neanderthals were thought to have required as much as 4,480 calories per day to keep them alive in the European winter. For a modern human male, 2,500 daily calories are recommended.

A high-calorie intake requires more oxygen to burn the sugars, fats and proteins in our cells to produce energy.

Take a deep breath

Scientists have long debated over the reason for the Neanderthal's face shape, which includes a large, wide nose and protruding upper jaw.

One theory was they were built to exert more bite force.

But Monday's study said this was not the case. Computer simulations showed that Neanderthals "were not particularly strong biters" compared to humans.

But "where the Neanderthal really excelled is in its ability to move large volumes of air through its nasal passage, indicating a very high-energy lifestyle."

The conclusion, said the team, was "that the distinctive facial morphology of Neanderthals has been driven, at least in part, by adaptation to cold"—both to "condition" cold, dry air, and to absorb more oxygen.

Neanderthals emerged in Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East some 200,000 years ago. They vanished about 30,000 years ago—coinciding with the arrival of modern humans out of Africa.

The two groups briefly overlapped and interbred, and today, non-African people are said to carry about 1.5-2.1 percent of Neanderthal DNA.

Long portrayed as knuckle-dragging brutes, recent studies have started to paint a picture of Neanderthals as sophisticated beings who made art, took care of the elderly, buried their dead, and may have been the first jewellers—though they were probably also cannibals.

Journal Reference:
Stephen Wroe, William C. H. Parr, Justin A. Ledogar, Jason Bourke, Samuel P. Evans, Luca Fiorenza, Stefano Benazzi, Jean-Jacques Hublin, Chris Stringer, Ottmar Kullmer, Michael Curry, Todd C. Rae, Todd R. Yokley Computer simulations show that Neanderthal facial morphology represents adaptation to cold and high energy demands, but not heavy biting Published 4 April 2018.DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2018.0085

Three adaptive hypotheses have been forwarded to explain the distinctive Neanderthal face: (i) an improved ability to accommodate high anterior bite forces, (ii) more effective conditioning of cold and/or dry air and, (iii) adaptation to facilitate greater ventilatory demands. We test these hypotheses using three-dimensional models of Neanderthals, modern humans, and a close outgroup (Homo heidelbergensis), applying finite-element analysis (FEA) and computational fluid dynamics (CFD). This is the most comprehensive application of either approach applied to date and the first to include both. FEA reveals few differences between H. heidelbergensis, modern humans, and Neanderthals in their capacities to sustain high anterior tooth loadings. CFD shows that the nasal cavities of Neanderthals and especially modern humans condition air more efficiently than does that of H. heidelbergensis, suggesting that both evolved to better withstand cold and/or dry climates than less derived Homo. We further find that Neanderthals could move considerably more air through the nasal pathway than could H. heidelbergensis or modern humans, consistent with the propositions that, relative to our outgroup Homo, Neanderthal facial morphology evolved to reflect improved capacities to better condition cold, dry air, and, to move greater air volumes in response to higher energetic requirements. 
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Neanderthals hunted in bands and speared prey up close: study

June 25, 2018

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Front and back view of a hunting lesion in a cervical vertebra of an extinct fallow deer, killed by Neandertals 120.000 years ago on a lake shore close to current-day Halle (Germany). Credit: Eduard Pop, MONREPOS Archaeological Research Centre and Museum for Human Behavioural Evolution, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Leibniz-Researchinstitute for Archaeology,

Neanderthals were capable of sophisticated, collective hunting strategies, according to an analysis of prehistoric animal remains from Germany that contradicts the enduring image of these early humans as knuckle-dragging brutes.

The cut marks—or "hunting lesions"—on the bones of two 120,000-year-old deer provide the earliest "smoking gun" evidence such weapons were used to stalk and kill prey, according to a study the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Microscopic imaging and ballistics experiments reproducing the impact of the blows confirmed that at least one was delivered with a wooden spear at low velocity.

"This suggests that Neanderthals approached animals very closely and thrust, not threw, their spears at the animals, most likely from an underhand angle," said Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser, a researcher at Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, Germany.

"Such a confrontational way of hunting required careful planning and concealment, and close cooperation between individual hunters," she told AFP.

Neanderthals lived in Europe from about 300,000 years ago until they died out 30,000 years ago, overtaken by our species.

It was long thought that these evolutionary cousins—modern Europeans and Asians have about two percent of Neanderthal DNA—were not smart enough to compete, and lacked symbolic culture, a trait supposedly unique to modern humans.

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Estimated impact angle shown in relation to a standing fallow deer for the hunting lesion observed in the pelvis of an extinct fallow deer, killed by Neandertals 120,000 years ago on a lake shore close to current-day Halle (Germany). Credit: Eduard Pop, MONREPOS Archaeological Research Centre and Museum for Human Behavioural Evolution, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Leibniz-Researchinstitute for Archaeology

But recent finds have revealed a species with more intelligence and savoir faire than suspected.

They buried their dead in ritual fashion, created tools, and painted animal frescos on cave walls at least 64,000 years ago, 20,000 years before homo sapiens arrived in Europe.

Secrets of old bones

Hominins—the term used to describe early human species, as well as our own—most likely started hunting with weapons more than half-a-million years ago.

300,000- to 400,000-year-old wooden staves found in England and Germany are the oldest known spear-like implements likely used for killing prey. But there was no physical evidence as to their use, leaving scientists to speculate.

The new find from the Neumark-Nord area of Germany removes that doubt, said Gaudzinski-Windheuser.

"As far as spear use is concerned, We now finally have the 'crime scene' fitting to the proverbial 'smoking gun'," she said.

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Front and back view of a hunting lesion in the pelvis of an extinct fallow deer, killed by Neandertals 120,000 years ago on a lake shore close to current-day Halle (Germany). Credit: Eduard Pop, MONREPOS Archaeological Research Centre and Museum for Human Behavioural Evolution, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Leibniz-Researchinstitute for Archaeology

Lake shore excavations from the same site since the 1980s have yielded tens of thousands of bones from large mammals, including red and fallow deer, horses and bovids.

They have also turned up thousands of stone artefacts, attesting to a flourishing Neanderthal presence in what was a forest environment during an interglacial period 135,000 and 115,000 years ago.

The old deer bones examined for the study were unearthed more than 20 years ago, but new technologies helped unlock their secrets: which injuries were lethal, what kind of weapon was used, and whether the spears were thrown from a distance or thrust from close up.

The damage done was also especially pronounced, making "the forensic style replication and analysis in this paper possible," wrote Annemieke Milks, a researcher at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London.

"The ballistics work is experimental archaeology at its best," she commented, also in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

We should also allow for the possibility that Neanderthals threw their spears as well, she added.

Journal Reference:
Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser et al. Evidence for close-range hunting by last interglacial Neanderthals, Nature Ecology & Evolution (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41559-018-0596-1

Animal resources have been part of hominin diets since around 2.5 million years ago, with sharp-edged stone tools facilitating access to carcasses. How exactly hominins acquired animal prey and how hunting strategies varied through time and space is far from clear. The oldest possible hunting weapons known from the archaeological record are 300,000 to 400,000-year-old sharpened wooden staves. These may have been used as throwing and/or close-range thrusting spears, but actual data on how such objects were used are lacking, as unambiguous lesions caused by such weapon-like objects are unknown for most of human prehistory. Here, we report perforations observed on two fallow deer skeletons from Neumark-Nord, Germany, retrieved during excavations of 120,000-year-old lake shore deposits with abundant traces of Neanderthal presence. Detailed studies of the perforations, including micro-computed tomography imaging and ballistic experiments, demonstrate that they resulted from the close-range use of thrusting spears. Such confrontational ways of hunting require close cooperation between participants, and over time may have shaped important aspects of hominin biology and behaviour. 
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  • Claudiu Constantin Nicolaescu
Neanderthals were no brutes – research reveals they may have been precision workers

September 27, 2018 by Francis Wenban-Smith, The Conversation

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Hand bones with the muscle attachment for both grips shown. Blue: precision, Red: Power. Credit: Copyright Katerina Harvati, University of Tübingen

Neanderthals were until quite recently often seen as simple-minded savages – powerful hunters with a short attention span. But in the last few years, scientists have realised that they were a lot more refined than previously thought – capable of caring for the vulnerable, burying their dead and even adorning themselves with feathers and beads.

Now new evidence, published in Science Advances, reveals that the Neanderthals were also more similar to modern humans in their physical expression than previously thought. The study, which analysed Neanderthal hand and arm bones, reveals that these individuals didn't actually rely primarily on force in their daily activities – they used precision grips just like we do.

The remarkable findings were possible thanks to a new approach to investigating and decoding the tiny marks left on skeletal remains by the muscle attachments of individual fingers and thumbs. It has been well known for many decades that one's skeleton responds to the forces resulting from habitual muscle use through life, with bones becoming more robust at points of increased strain.

And therefore you can compare Neanderthal injuries and areas of distinctive skeletal robustness with modern data. One such previous study found that the skeletal injuries of Neanderthals were similar to those of professional rodeo riders. The authors suggested this could have been because Neanderthal hunting involved close-quarters spearing – forcing them to cling on to their weapon as an injured animal thrashed around.

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Levalloisian lithic technology. Credit: Didier Descouens/wikipedia, CC BY-SA

Bricklayers versus writers

In the new study, researchers investigated modern comparative skeletal data from 50 (one hopes and presumes) willing modern human posthumous donors of their bodies to scientific research. They all had well documented life histories, although the precise origins of the sample were not presented. One group had an occupational history interpreted as involving power grips – bricklayers, stone masons and carpenters. The other group had been involved in less intensive manual work with greater requirement for precision – including tailors, shoemakers, joiners, a writer and a painter.

The resulting statistical analysis was exemplary, providing a framework that related certain combinations of skeletal marks to heavy work and lighter work, respectively. The assumptions underpinning the selection of the groups, however, could be questioned – it may be the case that stone masons and carpenters rely on manual precision in their work, too.

Still, the results were intriguing and the researchers compared them with archaeological data from six Neanderthal remains and six early modern human specimens. The results were very clear for the Neanderthal sample. All the skeletons showed strong and consistent similarities with the modern precision-grip group. Surprisingly, the results were less clear for the early modern human sample. Only three specimens matched this group. Two were instead consistently related to the heavy work group and the results were ambiguous for the other.

The surprise here is not that Neanderthals have been shown to have an adaptation involving manual dexterity and a precision grip, but rather that this should ever have been a matter of doubt.

Clues about societies

The Levalloisian lithic technology often used by Neanderthals to produce a range of flake end products of predetermined form would require both an essentially modern human cognitive capability to conceive it and great manual dexterity to achieve it.

This work therefore continues the trend over recent decades of bringing Neanderthals into the human family as complex beings. Clearly, these individuals negotiated their social and cultural worlds though brain power and technological sophistication.

Aspects of Neanderthal stone tool-making likely required high levels of precision grips. Credit: Copyright Katerina Harvati, University of Tübingen
Perhaps the mixed results for the early modern human sample is of even greater importance. Here we have undoubted members of the human family failing to demonstrate evidence of habitual use of precision-gripping through their lifetime. How can we explain that? It does suggest that these ancestors may have been more specialised in terms of labour than the Neandertals. There could have been social stratification in early modern human Upper Palaeolithic society, in which people had different occupations and perhaps status.

However, the sample was quite small so more research would be needed to settle this question. The next step will be to apply these techniques to new material in greater quantities, and perhaps with a more refined basis of comparative material.

Overall, however, this is a valuable and robust piece of research that reinforces what should now be the wide acceptance of Neanderthals as complex and sentient beings equivalent to ourselves.

Journal Reference:
Fotios Alexandros Karakostis, Gerhard Hotz, Vangelis Tourloukis and Katerina Harvati, "Evidence for precision grasping in Neandertal daily activities," Science Advances (2018).

Neandertal manual activities, as previously reconstructed from their robust hand skeletons, are thought to involve systematic power grasping rather than precise hand movements. However, this interpretation is at odds with increasing archeological evidence for sophisticated cultural behavior. We reevaluate the manipulative behaviors of Neandertals and early modern humans using a historical reference sample with extensive genealogical and lifelong occupational documentation, in combination with a new and precise three-dimensional multivariate analysis of hand muscle attachments. Results show that Neandertal muscle marking patterns overlap exclusively with documented lifelong precision workers, reflecting systematic precision grasping consistent with the use of their associated cultural remains. Our findings challenge the established interpretation of Neandertal behavior and establish a solid link between biological and cultural remains in the fossil record.
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Neanderthal hunting spears could kill at a distance

Date:  January 25, 2019
Source:  University College London

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This is a photo of the spear fragment from Clacton-on-Sea, England dating from 400,000 years ago.
Credit: Annemieke Milks (UCL)

Neanderthals have been imagined as the inferior cousins of modern humans, but a new study by archaeologists at UCL reveals for the first time that they produced weaponry advanced enough to kill at a distance.
The study, published in Scientific Reports, examined the performance of replicas of the 300,000 year old Schöningen spears -- the oldest weapons reported in archaeological records -- to identify whether javelin throwers could use them to hit a target at distance.
Dr Annemieke Milks (UCL Institute of Archaeology), who led the study, said: "This study is important because it adds to a growing body of evidence that Neanderthals were technologically savvy and had the ability to hunt big game through a variety of hunting strategies, not just risky close encounters. It contributes to revised views of Neanderthals as our clever and capable cousins."
The research shows that the wooden spears would have enabled Neanderthals to use them as weapons and kill at distance. It is a significant finding given that previous studies considered Neanderthals could only hunt and kill their prey at close range.
The Schöningen spears are a set of ten wooden throwing spears from the Palaeolithic Age that were excavated between 1994 and 1999 in an open-cast lignite mine in Schöningen, Germany, together with approximately 16,000 animal bones.
The Schöningen spears represent the oldest completely preserved hunting weapons of prehistoric Europe so far discovered. Besides Schöningen, a spear fragment from Clacton-on-Sea, England dating from 400,000 years ago can be found at the Natural History Museum, London.
The study was conducted with six javelin athletes who were recruited to test whether the spears could be used to hit a target at a distance. Javelin athletes were chosen for the study because they had the skill to throw at high velocity, matching the capability of a Neanderthal hunter.
Owen O'Donnell, an alumnus of UCL Institute of Archaeology, made the spear replicas by hand using metal tools. They were crafted from Norwegian spruce trees grown in Kent, UK. The surface was manipulated at the final stage with stone tools, creating a surface that accurately replicated that of a Pleistocene wooden spear. Two replicas were used, weighing 760g and 800g, which conform to ethnographic records of wooden spears.
The javelin athletes demonstrated that the target could be hit at up to 20 metres, and with significant impact which would translate into a kill against prey. This is double the distance that scientists previously thought the spears could be thrown, demonstrating that Neanderthals had the technological capabilities to hunt at a distance as well as at close range.
The weight of the Schöningen spears previously led scientists to believe that they would struggle to travel at significant speed. However, the study shows that the balance of weight and the speed at which the athletes could throw them produces enough kinetic energy to hit and kill a target.
Dr Matt Pope (UCL Institute of Archaeology), co-author on the paper, said: "The emergence of weaponry -- technology designed to kill -- is a critical but poorly established threshold in human evolution.
"We have forever relied on tools and have extended our capabilities through technical innovation. Understanding when we first developed the capabilities to kill at distance is therefore a dark, but important moment in our story."
Dr Milks concluded: "Our study shows that distance hunting was likely within the repertoire of hunting strategies of Neanderthals, and that behavioural flexibility closely mirrors that of our own species. This is yet further evidence narrowing the gap between Neanderthals and modern humans."

Story Source: University College London. "Neanderthal hunting spears could kill at a distance." ScienceDaily. (accessed January 28, 2019).

Journal Reference:
  1. Annemieke Milks, David Parker, Matt Pope. External ballistics of Pleistocene hand-thrown spears: experimental performance data and implications for human evolution. Scientific Reports, 2019; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-37904-w
The appearance of weaponry - technology designed to kill - is a critical but poorly established threshold in human evolution. It is an important behavioural marker representing evolutionary changes in ecology, cognition, language and social behaviours. While the earliest weapons are often considered to be hand-held and consequently short-ranged, the subsequent appearance of distance weapons is a crucial development. Projectiles are seen as an improvement over contact weapons, and are considered by some to have originated only with our own species in the Middle Stone Age and Upper Palaeolithic. Despite the importance of distance weapons in the emergence of full behavioral modernity, systematic experimentation using trained throwers to evaluate the ballistics of thrown spears during flight and at impact is lacking. This paper addresses this by presenting results from a trial of trained javelin athletes, providing new estimates for key performance parameters. Overlaps in distances and impact energies between hand-thrown spears and spearthrowers are evidenced, and skill emerges as a significant factor in successful use. The results show that distance hunting was likely within the repertoire of hunting strategies of Neanderthals, and the resulting behavioural flexibility closely mirrors that of our own species.
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  • Claudiu Constantin Nicolaescu
Yeah, I surely don't resile from the modicum % of Neanderthal/Denisovian DNA heritage in my being.

& I'd often thought that native Melanesians/Austronesians had a good dosage of the N/D DNA embodied too,
so ta for the confirmatory data there also, Taipan.

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