Cave Boy Forcing Us to Rethink the Family Tree of Mankind; SKELETON PROVES EARLY HUMANS BRED WITH NEANDERTHALS, SAY SCIENTISTS

Daily Mail (London), April 21, 1999 | Go to article overview

Cave Boy Forcing Us to Rethink the Family Tree of Mankind; SKELETON PROVES EARLY HUMANS BRED WITH NEANDERTHALS, SAY SCIENTISTS


Byline: DAVID DERBYSHIRE

HE was buried in a simple ceremony 25,000 years ago. Placed alongside strings of sea shells and painted with red ochre, the body of the four-year-old was laid to rest in a shallow grave.

But while his life was short, the cave boy was anything but insignificant.

His remains are so unusual that they are forcing scientists to rewrite the earliest history of mankind.

Fossil experts say the boy is the first proof that early humans bred with the Neanderthals - the offshoot of mankind which died out 20,000 years ago.

And that raises the prospect that modern humans are carrying genetic traits

from the stocky, heavy-browed cavemen.

'This skeleton, which has some characteristics of Neanderthals and others of early modern humans, demonstrates that early modern humans and Neanderthals are not all that different, ' said anthropologist Dr Erik Trinkaus, of Washington University, who studied the remains.

'They intermixed, interbred and produced offspring.' Many academics believe that modern humans - or Cro-Magnons - and Neanderthals evolved separately in Africa and spread across the world between 100,000 and 40,000 years ago.

The Cro-Magnons reached Spain and Portugal around 30,000 years ago and lived alongside their cousins, Neanderthals, who had arrived earlier.

Within a few thousand years, the Neanderthals vanished.

Some have argued that the two groups stayed apart and that the Neanderthals were driven to extinction by modern humans.

But the latest find suggests that modern humans and Neanderthals did breed - and that the two branches may have merged into one. Radiocarbon dating revealed that the hybrid boy found in Portugal died 24,500 years ago - some 4,000 years after the arrival of modern man.

'This find refutes strict replacement models of modern human origins - that early modern humans all emerged from Africa and wiped out the Neanderthal population,' said Dr Trinkaus.

Last year, scientists managed to extract DNA from a 30,000-year-old Neanderthal bone and compared its makeup with modern people's.

That study showed that the two were unrelated, suggesting that Neanderthals were a doomed offshoot of the human family tree. …

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