170,000 Year-Old Cave Skeleton Yields Ancient Neanderthal DNA
A calcite coated Neanderthal skeleton, originally found in an Italian cave in 1993, has now yielded some of the oldest known DNA of a Neanderthal.
The skeleton, found near Altamura, Italy, in Southern Spain, is the most complete skeleton of a human ancestor ever to have been found. Interestingly enough, while the skeleton is being billed as that of a Neanderthal (a relative of modern humans that went extinct 40,000 years ago), some of its characteristics vary from what is traditionally considered Neanderthal. For example, its brow ridges just above the eyes are even larger than a typical Neanderthal skull. Many other traits such as the back of the skull and shoulder blades are what scientists would expect to find in a Neanderthal skull.
One of the leading researchers, Fabio Di Vincenzo, a paleoanthropologist at Sapienza University of Rome believes that the skeleton and DNA will give scientists a glimpse into the earliest days of Neanderthal evolution and paint a more accurate pictures of just how they changed as time progressed.
Unfortunately, don’t count on scientists cloning a Neanderthal from the DNA anytime soon. Bone this old has degraded far too much to provide researchers with an entire genome, but there is hope that one day it will be possible with more advanced technologies.