| 9 October 2007
Neanderthals roamed as far as Siberia
DNA extracted from skeletal remains has shown that Neanderthals roamed some 2000 kilometres further east than previously thought. Researchers say the genetic sequence of an adolescent Neanderthal found in southern Siberia closely matches that of Neanderthals found in western Europe, suggesting that this close relative of modern humans migrated very long distances.
Svante Pääbo at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues examined skeletal remains found in the Okladnikov cave in the Altai Mountains and dated as between 30,000 and 38,000 years old . Until now, archaeologists have been unable to determine whether the remains belonged to Neanderthals or another species of extinct hominid because the bones are too fragmented.
Pääbo and his colleagues took samples of bone from the adolescent. The team succeeded in extracting DNA from mitochondria and after sequencing a short fragment of this DNA, the team compared it with that of several Neanderthals found in Europe. They discovered that it matched DNA recovered from remains found in Belgium almost perfectly. The match was "quite a bit of a surprise", according to Pääbo, since the new evidence extends the territory of this hominid some 2000 kilometres further east. "It means that Neanderthals were a bit more adaptable than some people give them credit for," says Jeffrey McKee at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, US.
Archaeologists had previously thought that Neanderthals' range only extended as far as modern-day Uzbekistan. This was based on a distinctly Neanderthal skull recovered from the Teshik-Tash cave in the south-east of the country.
The study may not settle the debate over Neanderthal's range definitively, though. Eric Trinkaus at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, US, questions whether it definitively proves the Okladnikov bones to be those of Neanderthals. Trinkaus suggests that other species of hominids could have had the same mitochondrial DNA sequence as Neanderthals.
Source: New Scientist (30 September 2007)
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