The remains of a Bulgarian cave reveal surprises regarding the first homo sapiens in Europe

Researchers are discovering the genetic contribution of East Asia, not Europe, because they are discovering 3 to 3.8 percent of Neanderthal DNA from the remains of three people who lived about 45,000 years ago.

A look at excavations at Bacho Kiro Cave in Bulgaria, where the remains of anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) who lived about 45,000 years ago have been found, can be seen in this undated exchange photograph. (Reuters)

DNA extracted from the remains found in a Bulgarian cave by three people who lived about 45,000 years ago reveals surprises regarding the first populations of Homo sapiens to enter Europe, including extensive crossbreeding with Neanderthals and genetic links to today’s East Asians.

Scientists said Wednesday they sequenced the genome of the three people – all men – using DNA obtained from molar and bone fragments discovered in the Bacho Kiro cave near the town of Dryanovo, as well as a woman who lived at the same site about 35,000 years ago.

Our species first appeared in Africa about 300,000 years ago and later traveled to other parts of the world, sometimes encountering Neanderthals – our close relatives – who already inhabit parts of Eurasia.

The three males from the Bacho Kiro cave represent the oldest persons with certainty dated Homo sapiens from Europe.

They had 3 to 3.8 percent of Neanderthal DNA and had Neanderthal ancestors of about five to seven generations in their family history, which is evidence of crossbreeding, said geneticist Mateja Hajdinjak of the Francis Crick Institute in London, lead author of the study.

READ MORE: Scientists look at Neanderthal ‘brain’

The molar of the male Homo sapiens, which lived about 45,000 years ago, found in the Bacho Kiro cave in Bulgaria, and which gave DNA that revealed new information about some of the earliest members of our species to hike to Europe, is shown in three views undated image with brochures.

The molar of the male Homo sapiens, which lived about 45,000 years ago, found in the Bacho Kiro cave in Bulgaria, and which gave DNA that revealed new information about some of the earliest members of our species that walked to Europe, is shown in three views undated image with brochures. (Reuters)

‘Amazing observation’

A crossover, known as an adjunct, between homo sapiens and Neanderthals before the extinction of Neanderthals just over 40,000 years ago, with today’s human populations outside Africa carrying a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA, is shown above.

The prevalence of this crossover and the dynamics of the relationship and power between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals are more difficult to understand – including any role our species has played in the decay of Neanderthals.

A new study suggests that crossbreeding was more common than was previously known for the first Homo sapiens in Europe.

“It’s an amazing observation” that all three individuals had Neanderthal ancestors in recent family history, said geneticist and co-author of the study Svante Paabo, director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.

“This makes it probable that the earliest modern humans often mingled with Neanderthals when they met. Perhaps even the case that part of the reason Neanderthals disappeared is that they were simply absorbed into larger modern human groups. This is perhaps only part of the reason have disappeared, but the data supports such a scenario, ”Paabo said.

‘Genetically unrelated’

Researchers have discovered a genetic contribution among today’s people from the group that included these three, but it was unexpectedly determined that it was especially in East Asia, including China, and not in Europe. This suggests that some people from this group eventually headed east.

“This study redirected our previous understanding of early human migration to Europe in a way that showed how even the earliest history of modern humans in Europe could have been turbulent and involved population replacement,” Hajdinjak said.

The notion of population replacement is illustrated by the fact that the 35,000-year-old remains from the Bacho Kiro cave belonged to a group that is not genetically related to the earlier inhabitants of the site.

‘Dark skin and dark eyes’

Another study published Wednesday in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution shed more light on the early European populations of Homo sapiens.

The scientists sequenced the genome of the female person homo sapiens using DNA extracted from a skull found at a site southwest of Prague in the Czech Republic.

It is thought to have lived more than 45,000 years ago, although efforts to find radiocarbon to establish a firm date have been unsuccessful.

This woman carried 3 percent of Neanderthal descent and had genetic traits that suggest she has dark skin and dark eyes, said geneticist Kay Prufer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, lead author of the study.

“Her skull shows evidence of predator milling, possible hyenas,” Prufer said.

Her group, different from the one in Bulgaria, seems to have become extinct without leaving a genetic lineage among modern humans.

READ MORE: Scientists find the remains of a 160,000-year-old human relative in Tibet

Source: TRTWorld and agencies

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