For the first time, researchers have identified a Neanderthal family: a father and his teenage daughter, as well as several others who were close relatives. They lived in Siberian caves around 54,000 years ago.
The researchers extracted ancient DNA from bones and teeth that once belonged to 11 Neanderthals living together at the Chagyrskaya Cave, as well as 2 others from a second cave nearby. Of the 13, eight were adults and five were children.
The researchers say that the individuals found at Chagyrskaya likely lived at the same time - an unusual finding at sites this old, where discoveries often span vast timelines.
“The fact that they were living at the same time is very exciting. This means that they likely came from the same social community,” says study co-author Laurits Skov, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. “So, for the first time, we can use genetics to study the social organization of a Neanderthal community.”
Neanderthals inhabited what is now Europe and Asia for more than 350,000 years until they disappeared, somewhat suddenly, around 40,000 years ago. This occurred at around the same time as the emergence of Homo sapiens in Europe.
Studying Neanderthals is like “putting together a puzzle where we have many, many missing pieces,” says John Hawks, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin. And now, the new study published in Nature means “somebody’s dumped a bunch more pieces on the table.”
“Our study provides a concrete picture of what a Neanderthal community may have looked like”, says Benjamin Peter, a co-author of the study. “It makes Neanderthals seem much more human to me.”
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