Posts Tagged ‘neanderthal’

Reindeer teeth hold clues to Neanderthal hunting tactics

May 24, 2011

Stone Pages Archaeo News 19 May 2011
Original article here

Analysis of subtle chemical variations in reindeer teeth suggest the Neanderthal employed sophisticated hunting strategies similar to the tactics used much later by modern humans. Kate Britton, an archaeologist now at the University of Aberdeen, and her colleagues wanted to find out more about adult reindeer remains from a 70,000 year old layer at the Jonzac Neanderthal hunting camp site in France – a rock shelter believed to have been used over a long period of time – by looking at the teeth and their chemical composition.
Teeth are made of calcium, phosphorus, oxygen, strontium and other elements, but not all the atoms of each element are the same. Some atoms, or isotopes, are heavier than others and may have slightly different chemical properties. Says Britton, “Strontium in your bones and teeth is related to the food and water you consume… to the underlying soil and rocks of a particular area.” It’s possible to look at the strontium isotopes and find out if the animals ate and drank always in the same area, or if they moved around.
The reindeer have similar strontium isotope patterns, suggesting they moved from one area to another and back again while their teeth were developing. “The reindeer were probably travelling through the area during their annual migrations,” Britton says. The Neanderthal were probably aware of the reindeer migration patterns and planned their stays to make the most out of the moving herd. “This sophisticated hunting behaviour is something we see much later in the Upper Palaeolithic amongst modern human groups, and it’s really fascinating to see that Neanderthals were employing similar strategies,” concludes Britton.

Russian site could be late Neanderthal refuge

May 24, 2011
By MALCOLM RITTER, Associated Press 05/19/2011 Original article here

NEW YORK — Scientists have identified what may be one of the last northern refuges of Neanderthals, a spot near the Arctic Circle in Russia with artifacts dated to 31,000 to 34,000 years ago.

Stone tools and flakes found there look like the work of Neanderthals, the stocky, muscular hunters who lived in Europe and western Asia until they were replaced by modern humans, researchers reported today in the journal Science.

The site lies along the Pechora River west of the Ural Mountains, about 92 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Researchers dated it from animal bones and sand grains. Nobody has found any human bones or DNA that could provide stronger evidence that Neanderthals lived there, report the scientists, from Russia, France and Norway. The artifacts had been collected during various expeditions.

Richard Klein, a Stanford University professor of anthropology, said the artifacts do look like the work of Neanderthals, but that it’s also possible they were made by modern people instead.

Neanderthals were not previously known to be in that area, nor convincingly shown to be present anywhere at such a recent time, he said. Finding another site or human bones would help settle the question, he said.

Eric Delson, a paleoanthropologist at Lehman College of the City of New York, cited a 2006 study that suggests Neanderthals occupied a cave near the southern tip of Spain at about the same time as the new work puts them in Russia. Maybe the two locations show how Neanderthals retreated in opposite directions from the encroachment of the modern humans, he said.

Neanderthal burial ground suggests they practiced funeral rituals

May 9, 2011

NewKerala.com – original article here
Washington, Apr 21 : The discovery of a possible Neanderthal burial ground has suggested that they practiced funeral rituals and possessed symbolic thought long before modern humans.

According to a Quaternary International paper, evidence for a likely 50,000-year-old Neanderthal burial ground that includes the remains of at least three individuals has been unearthed in Spain.
The skeletons found in apparent burial poses at the site Sima de las Palomas, in Murcia, Southeast Spain, may be the first known Neanderthal burial ground of Mediterranean Europe. The remains of six to seven other Neanderthals, including an infant and two juveniles, as well as associated tools and food, have also been excavated. The deceased appear to have been intentionally buried, with each Neanderthal””s arms folded such that the hands were close to the head, suggesting that it held meaning.

“We cannot say much (about the skeletons) except that we surmise the site was regarded as somehow relevant in regard to the remains of deceased Neanderthals,” Discovery News quoted lead author Michael Walker as saying.

“Their tools and food remains, not to mention signs of fires having been lit, which we have excavated indicate they visited the site more than once,” he said.

Walker, a professor in the Department of Zoology and Physical Anthropology at the University of Murcia and his colleagues, have been working at the site for some time. So far they have found buried articulated skeletons for a young adult female, a juvenile or child, and an adult — possibly male — Neanderthal.

“We cannot say whether these three individuals were related, though it is likely,” he said, explaining that DNA has been denatured due to high ambient temperatures. “Surely the child was related to one of the others, though,” he explained.

The Neanderthals were found covered together with rocks burying their remains. The researchers believe it””s likely that other Neanderthals intentionally placed the rocks over the bodies from a height. While it cannot be ruled out that an accident killed the three individuals, the scientists believe that wasn””t the case. “I think there is just enough evidence at Sima de las Palomas to think that three articulated skeletons are unlikely to have been the result of a single random accident to three cadavers that somehow escaped the ravages of hyenas and leopards, which were present at the site,” Walker said.

Erik Trinkaus, a professor of physical anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, is one of the world’s leading experts on Neanderthals. He said that it is certainly possible that the Neanderthals at Sima de las Palomas were buried. He said a few dozen documented Neanderthal burials from Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia have already been documented.

Trinkaus added that the Neanderthal remains from Spain will “provide us with our first glimpse of overall Neanderthal body form in Southern Europe, as well as additional specimens for a number of aspects of Neanderthal biology”.

ANI

Neanderthal life spans similar to modern humans

January 12, 2011
By Charles Q. Choi, msnbc.com 1/11/2011
Original article here

Those who investigate Neanderthal remains have long known of a puzzling gap — elderly individuals are rare. Scientists have thus suggested that these prehistoric humans might have had an inherently shorter life expectancy than us modern humans, with our lineage ultimately outnumbering theirs, and so contributing to their demise.

Not so, according to a new study. Our once closest living relatives likely had similar life spans as us.

Our species, Homo sapiens , is the only surviving lineage of the genus Homo. Still, there once were many others, all of whom could also be called human.

Anthropologist Erik Trinkaus at Washington University in St. Louis analyzed fossil records to gauge the adult life spans of Neanderthals and early modern humans, which coexisted in different regions for about 150,000 years. He found roughly the same number of 20- to 40-year-old adults and adults older than 40 in both Neanderthal and early modern human populations, suggesting life expectancy was probably the same for both.

“Arguments for longer survival among early modern humans causing the demise of the Neandertals have no basis in fact,” Trinkaus told LiveScience. (Neanderthals are also called Neandertals due to changes in the German spelling over the years.)

Trinkaus did caution that a number of factors might skew his life-expectancy calculations. For instance, all these archaic and modern humans apparently had very mobile lifestyles during the Pleistocene to search for their next meals. That likely means any older members who could not keep up were left behind to die, and their remains would have been scattered by scavengers and lost from the fossil record.

Still, “new fossil discoveries could change the pattern some, but it is unlikely to alter it very much,” Trinkaus said. Overall, he contends that longevity did not factor into the extinction of Neanderthals. If early modern humans did have a population advantage, he argued, it was probably more due to high fertility rates and lower infant mortality.

Trinkaus detailed his findings online Jan. 10 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

How Neanderthals also enjoyed their greens: Meat-only diet was myth, teeth reveal

January 9, 2011

By COLIN FERNANDEZ 28th December 2010
dailymail.co.uk
Original article here

For years it was believed the Neanderthals were carnivores who devoured meat.

But new research has found that not only did our primitive ancestors eat a lot of greens, they were able to cook them as well.

It was widely believed that the limited meat-only diet of Neanderthals and their lack of cooking skills contributed to their extinction.

Vegetable kebab? A depiction of a Neanderthal woman working with fire

Their rivals Homo Sapiens, our direct ancestors, who lived alongside them were more adaptable as they had a wider variety of food sources to choose from.

But a microscopic analysis of the fossilised teeth of Neanderthals reveals their diet was more varied than previously thought – with their vegetable intake including beans, roots and tubers and palm dates.

The evidence, from cave sites in Iraq and Belgium, also suggests Neanderthals controlled fire in much the same way as Homo Sapiens.

Many of the plant remains had undergone physical changes that make scientists believe they were cooked before they were eaten.

Researchers are still trying to identify remains of other plants on the teeth.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers led by Dr Dolores Piperno, from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, said: ‘Our results indicate that Neanderthals made use of the diverse plant foods available in their local environment and transformed them into more easily digestible foodstuffs, in part through cooking them, suggesting an overall sophistication in Neanderthal dietary regimes.’

Dental data: A neanderthal's tooth has shown scientists that they ate a lot more vegetables than originally thoughtDental data: A neanderthal’s tooth has shown scientists that they ate a lot more vegetables than originally thought 

Neanderthals are thought to have migrated from Africa between 300,000 to 400,000 years ago. They were followed 70,000 years ago by Homo Sapiens, but around 30,000 years ago, Neanderthals died out – the exact reason for which remains a mystery.

Excavations carried out as part of the Gibraltar Caves Project had revealed that seafood figured in the Neanderthal diet.

Hearth embers, shells, animal bones and the remains of marine species were found in the Gorham and Vanguard caves, on Gibraltar’s eastern flank, by an international team of scientists led by Chris Stringer from London’s Natural History Museum and Clive Finlayson from the Gibraltar Museum.

An impression of the Neanderthals’ coastal foraging habits and diet was provided by the discovery of fossiled bones and shells from dolphins, monk seals and mussels alongside the more expected bear, ibex, red deer and wild boar.

Many of the bones showed signs of damage from cutting and peeling, and the mussels were apparently warmed on a fire to open them up.

Earlier this week, scientists revealed a new variety of humans called Denisovans lived alongside Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals.

The cavemen were identified from DNA taken from a tooth and finger bone found in a cave in Siberia.

It was found in the Denisova cave in the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia in 2008 alongside ornaments and jewellery.

Provisional tests published earlier this year suggested that the remains belonged to an entirely new species.

The Denisovans were physically different from the thickset Neanderthals and modern humans, although they also walked upright.

Did man come out of Israel? panel

Mammoth Calf, Ancient Art Work Displayed At Neanderthal Museum In Germany (PHOTOS)

November 24, 2010

The mammoth ivory carving of prehistoric man is 35,000 years old, and was found in southern Germany.

The Huffington Post, November 19. 2010
Original article here

A stunning new German exhibition is shedding new light onto the prehistoric era.

Displayed at the Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann, Germany, the exhibition includes never-before-seen artifacts and remains of one of the most mysterious creatures of the Ice Age, the mammoth. Among the most intriguing are an icon of one of the enormous animals cast in ivory, which is believed to be the oldest known artwork of mankind, as well as the completely preserved remains of an original mammoth calf, named Lyuba.

See photos of the new exhibit, courtesy of the Associated Press, here:

A man takes photos of the original mammoth calf Lyuba, at the Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann.

Neanderthal kids grew up faster than humans: study

November 19, 2010
Kerry Sheridan, Yahoo News – Mon Nov 15, 2010Original article here

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Facing untold pressures to survive, Neanderthal kids grew up much faster than modern human tots, whose lengthy childhoods may be a relatively new phenomenon that has helped boost longevity.

That’s according to a study by led researchers at Harvard University, the latest to highlight small but crucial differences in early development between humans and our closest cousins who became extinct about 28,000 years ago.

Researchers made the discovery after using a new “supermicroscrope” with an advanced X-ray technique to examine the teeth of previously discovered fossils of eight Neanderthal children.

“The Neanderthal children seemed to show a lot of stress,” said lead study author Tanya Smith, assistant professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard, noting that teeth can offer plenty of clues about overall development.

“Inside and outside, the Neanderthal teeth show a lot of these developmental defects in high frequencies. It seems like childhood was tough for Neanderthals.”

The study, which appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said that young Neanderthals’ teeth growth “was significantly faster than in our own species.”

Even when compared to some of the earliest human teeth, taken from remains of humans who left Africa 90,000 to 100,00 years ago, the differences were clear. Human teeth grew more slowly, pointing to more leisurely periods of youth.

“This indicates that the elongation of childhood has been a relatively recent development,” the study said.

During the five-year study, scientists at Harvard, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility examined and compared the remains of Neanderthal and human children.

Using a highly developed “supermicroscope” that helped peer deeper into the dental fossils without damaging them, researchers found that the first hominin fossil ever discovered, that of a young Neanderthal girl found in Belgium, was actually about three years old when she died, not four to five as previously thought.

Scientists were even able to detect a “tiny ‘birth certificate'” inside molars that offered a precise way to calculate how old a juvenile was at death, Smith said.

“Teeth are remarkable time recorders, capturing each day of growth much like rings in trees reveal yearly progress,” she said.

Previous research has pointed to differences in how early humans and apes mature and grow.

For example, ape females have shorter pregnancies that result in offspring growing up faster and reproducing at younger ages than humans. Chimpanzees on average bear their first babies at age 13, compared to age 19 in humans.

“It doesn’t make any sense to lengthen your childhood if there is no guarantee you are going to make it to a ripe old age,” said Smith.

However, it is less clear when this evolutionary shift began to occur in the path of human development.

Smith described the change as a “costly yet advantageous shift from a primitive ‘live fast and die young’ strategy to the ‘live slow and grow old’ strategy that has helped to make us one of the most successful organisms on the planet.”

When the researchers examined tooth specimens from the earliest members of our own species, using one set of dental remains found in Morocco 160,000 years ago and one that dates back 90-100,000 years found in Israel, they found they were remarkably similar to modern humans.

“They look pretty much like us,” said Smith. “This longer period of growth and development is a condition that is unique to our own species.”

The advances in examining the age of the teeth were possible by using what the study called a “supermicroscope” that employs “extremely powerful X-ray beams” developed at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France.The synchotron at Grenoble is the largest in the world, and has been visited by museum curators and scientists bearing rare fossils from around the world so that they can be imaged and analyzed anew, the study said.

A study released last week showed that the brains of Neanderthals, believed to be modern humans’ closest ancestor, were similar to humans’ at birth but developed differently in the first year of life.

Neanderthal and human brains similar shape at birth, research shows

November 18, 2010
By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times
November 13, 2010
Original article here

Human brains soon become more rounded, but those of the extinct species retained an elongated shape. The findings could help scientists determine the cognitive differences between the two species.

The shape-shift of human brains may be linked to some underlying structural changes in brain regions that account for emotional, social and language development. (CSIC, EPA / May 6, 2010)

The newborn brains of Neanderthals looked remarkably similar to human brains at birth and then began to diverge drastically over the first year of life, European scientists have reported. The findings, reported online Monday in the journal Current Biology, could help paleoanthropologists figure out the cognitive differences between modern humans and their extinct relatives — and when, exactly, those differences developed.

A team led by paleoanthropologist Philipp Gunz of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, scanned the skulls of several Neanderthals, including a newborn, and mapped out the shape of the brain cavity. Gunz said he decided to look at the differences between human and Neanderthal skulls after finding in an earlier study that chimpanzee and human brains have the same elongated shape at birth, but that the human baby’s brain quickly becomes more rounded.

Gunz wondered whether even though human and Neanderthal brains were roughly the same size, they would find a similar difference in shape between young humans and Neanderthals, who went extinct about 25,000 years ago.Human and Neanderthal brains were remarkably similar in shape right after birth, the scientists found — perhaps because of the common need to squeeze a baby’s head through its mother’s birth canal.

But differences set in during the first year. Human brains begin to morph from an elongated shape to a more rounded one. The Neanderthal brains, similar to chimpanzee brains, retained their oblong shape.

Although any inference about Neanderthals’ cognitive ability would be speculative at best, Gunz said, the shape-shift of human brains may be linked to some underlying structural changes in brain regions that account for emotional, social and language development.

“We think shape indicates a difference in the speed of development,” Gunz said, “because if you grow faster or slower, the brain shape changes differently…. We know from modern humans that the way you grow your brain affects the pattern of neural wiring.”

Steven Leigh, a biological anthropologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said the findings were interesting. “There obviously has been a lot of debate about the evolution of the human brain and at what points the brain differs from other species, including Neanderthals,” he said. “They seem to be getting closer to the answer in this analysis.”

amina.khan@latimes.com

Mammoth bones as architectural building blocks!

November 13, 2010

Fascinating article about the origins of architecture found in the anatomy of animals.
More pictures in the original article, here, at the Canadian Centre for Architecture.

Who was the Archigram of mammoth bones? … Geoff Manaugh

Cedric Price, Neanderthal: or, the Archigram of Mammoth Bones

In Steven Mithen’s fantastic book After the Ice, a natural history of human culture from 20,000–5,000 BC, we find a brief introduction to the earliest architectural structures.

Illustration depicting mammoth bone architecture; illustrator unknown.

“The world at 20,000 BC is inhospitable,” Mithen writes, “a cold, dry and windy planet with frequent storms and a dust-laden atmosphere… People survive wherever they can, struggling with freezing temperatures and persistent drought.” Their survival is assisted by the construction of shelters—architecture at its very Ice Age origins.

For instance, “five dwellings form a rough circle on the tundra,” Mithen writes, referring to an archaeological site in what is now Ukraine (and using the present tense that his book maintains throughout).

The dwellings are igloo-like but built from mammoth bone and hide rather than blocks of ice. Each has an imposing entrance formed by two tusks, up-ended to form an arch. The walls use massive leg bones as vertical supports, between which jawbones have been stacked chin-down to create a thick barrier to the cold and wind. Further tusks are used on the roof to weigh down hides and sods of turf that are supported on a framework of bones and branches.

Skulls are used as furniture, and animal hides line the floor and walls, in a kind of corporeal grotesque that would make Ed Gein proud. These structures formed what the Field Museum in Chicago calls “small villages of bone huts,” adding that, when a bone didn’t work as architecture, it could be repurposed as a musical instrument—as if predating David Byrne’s Playing the Building installation by more than twenty millennia.

Excavation of Dwelling 4, Mezhirich, Ukraine (1979); photo by O.Soffer, from "The Upper Paleolithic of the Central Russian Plain," courtesy of Don's MapsIn his book The Archaeology of Animals, Simon J. M. Davis refers to these structures as a type of “osteo-architecture,” or “bone ruins.” He goes on to explain that an archaeologist named Ivan Pidoplichko “excavated some of the most spectacular bone ‘ruins’ so far found in the Ukraine. At Mezhirich, in the Cherkassy Region for example, he found a ‘ruin’ consisting of 385 mammoth bones covering a circular area 4-5m across. Beneath these bones Pidoplichko found 4600 artefacts and an ash-filled circular pit.” Davis’s ensuing description is worth quoting in full:

In Pidoplichko’s reconstruction the building was shaped like a beehive, similar to a Chukot Yaranga or ‘skin tent’ of today. The base of the structure consisted of a circle of some 25 mammoth skulls, each arranged so that its frontal bones faced inwards (this was how he found them). Other elements which made up the foundation were 20 mammoth pelvises and 10 long bones embedded vertically in the ground. On top of these and the skulls were 12 more skulls, 30 scapulae, 20 long bones, 15 pelvises and segments of seven vertebral columns. Still higher—and presumably for holding down skins over a wooden framework—there were 35 tusks. Ninety-five mammoth mandibles, piled up in columns around parts of the foundation, may have served as a peripheral retaining wall.

Excavation grids from Mezhirich, Ukraine; from O.Soffer, "The Upper Paleolithic of the Central Russian Plain," courtesy of Don's Maps

Mithen speculates that these anatomical Ice Age building supplies did not come only from coordinated acts of hunting (in which slaughtering large animals would also have meant obtaining spare parts for your house, as if wooly mammoths were a kind of living Home Depot). Instead, he suggests, “the river supplies building materials: bones from animals that have died in the north and had their carcasses washed downstream.” These bones thus arrived by, and were harvested from, deltaic processes of the nearby watershed, just a particularly bulky form of sediment or debris for which it was easy to find a cultural use.

There are several architectural points to be made here. First, it seems substantially more interesting to me to locate the birth of architecture in actual paleolithic practices, not in the terminological vagaries of early Greek philosophy (which seems to the prevalent mode of searching for architecture’s theoretical origins today). But what if the knee-joints of extinct megafauna are more important for the origins of architecture than Daedalus or khôra?

In other words, why not perform forensic studies of mammoth bones and animal skins, and put down the Plato? As a side note, I was intrigued to see that the Wikipedia page for the history of architecture, as of June 2010, does not even go beyond 10,000 BC, starting instead with the Neolithic. But what of Steven Mithen, Davis’s osteo-architecture, and our bone-encircled Ukrainians?

At what point is an inhabitable pile of skulls considered a building?

Second, what was architectural “style” 22,000 years ago? Were there eccentric or personalized methods for tying sinew bone-to-bone, or virtuoso tactics for assembling antlers into windproof screens on difficult hillside sites? Who were the path-breakers for the time—who was the Cedric Price of animal architecture, or the Archigram of mammoth bones? By extension, what palaces of mastodon ribs have been lost to archaeology altogether? Multi-floored labyrinths of cartilage and bearskin rugs. An Early Holocene Plug-In City made from the jaws of saber-toothed tigers.

Third, surely a retrospective exhibition of late Pleistocene architecture is long overdue? Even a small gallery show exploring the state of architecture 22,000 years ago would be extraordinarily interesting. At the very least, imagine the weekend outreach programs for kids.

The border between natural history and architectural design deserves far more exploration, beyond the odd science museum diorama. We have been living in buildings for more than 20,000 years, if Mithen’s book is to be believed, but nearly half of that period has seemingly been thrown outside the pale of architectural history.

Buildings, however, did not suddenly appear at 10,000 BC with the first stonemasons, woodcutters, or certified Greek philosophers; they accumulated out of the corpse-filled debris of Ice Age rivers when neurologically modern humans began to interlock and assemble bones into structures of which we have almost no physical record.

So how do we bring these structures out of material anthropology and into architectural history, where they just as equally belong?

Perhaps it’s time for Pamphlet Architecture to take up the subject of paleolithic home design.

Geoff Manaugh is a 2010 Visiting Scholar and writes as part of the To CCA, From… series. Browse all of Geoff’s posts.

What Makes Us Human? Neanderthal Genome Holds Clues

August 11, 2010

The rough draft of the Neanderthal genome is complete.

Using 38,000-year-old bone fragments and new shotgun sequencing technology, researchers have sequenced 3.7 billion base pairs of Neanderthal DNA. That’s more than the 3 billion base pairs expected in the final draft of the genome, but many of the snippets of genetic code are repeats. At this stage scientists have just 63 percent of the hominid genome completely sequenced.

Still, even with a rough draft, scientists can begin to isolate the genetic variations that are uniquely, irreducibly human.

“The first big goal of this project, which is really about understanding our evolution, is this catalog of [evolutionary] changes,” said the project leader, Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. “The second goal is finding evidence of positive selection, of where something changed in our ancestors that really made a difference in how we reproduce and survive.”

Neanderthals are our closest relatives on the hominid family tree. We split from them about 500,000 years ago and for the next 475,000 years or so, modern humans and Neanderthals coexisted on the planet and sometimes even in the same region. The relationship between humans and our cousins has inspired lots of ideas about sex and war. Recently scientists have speculated that Neanderthals and humans in Europe could have interbred, while others have speculated that humans killed off the Neanderthals.

The draft genome does not yet provide enough evidence to answer some of the big questions about the relationship between humans and our cousins, but already little details are emerging. For example, last year the team revealed that a gene known to be important in the development of speech was present in the Neanderthal genome.

“There’s no reason to think they [couldn’t] articulate as we do, although there are many more genes related to speech,” Pääbo told reporters at the AAAS annual meeting in Chicago, which runs through Monday.

We also know that Neanderthals were sophisticated toolmakers and were highly intelligent, although that remains a subject of debate.

The question becomes, then, what switch was thrown that allowed modern humans to surpass all previous hominid species and become the world-dominating predator that we are?

“Why are Neanderthals so important to us and why do we want to know about their genome? Because the Neanderthals represent the last divergent branch of the human evolutionary bush,” said Jean-Jacques
Hublin, who studies evolution at the Planck Institute. “Studying the
Neanderthal genome tells us what makes modern humans really modern and really human.”

In small ways, studying the Neanderthal genome tells us something about Neanderthals, too. For example, Pääbo revealed that Neanderthals didn’t possess a mutation often found in humans that allows us to metabolize lactose, which lets cow’s milk do a body good.

“We can start looking at interesting genes to start seeing what Neanderthals might have been like,” he said.

With the draft completed, the researchers will try to collect more
DNA and sequence it faster to get a “deeper” read on the genome, increasing its accuracy and filling in the gaps. They now have five archaeological sites from which they can recover genetic fragments, including a new excavation in Spain that is taking precautions to prevent destroying or contaminating the fragile genes.

The more complete and redundant sequencing effort will allow the scientists to isolate genes unique to the Neanderthals, not just variations on human genes. By sequencing 15 or 20 times as many base pairs as exist in the Neanderthal genome, the researchers will be able to separate mistakes from unique genes.

“We’re going to sequence things much deeper, get 15 to 20 times coverage,” Pääbo said.  “Then, we’ll be able to believe things that are
Neanderthal-specific.”

But don’t get your hopes up for creating a Neanderthal clone, a real-life Encino Man meets Jurassic Park. Researchers say that will remain technically impossible.

— Alexis Madrigal, Wired.com staff writer

Original article here