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Scientists discover oldest human DNA, linking us to Neanderthals

Neanderthal DNA extraction
Neanderthal DNA extraction Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Scientists say they have unravelled the oldest DNA ever retrieved from a Homo sapiens bone, shedding light on human colonisation of the planet.

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Scientists in Paris have decoded the DNA of a man who they say died around 45,000 years ago.

Found by chance on the banks of a Siberian river in 2008, this man's genome contains traces from Neanderthal, a cousin species who lived in Eurasia alongside Homo sapiens before mysteriously disappearing.

Previous research found that Neanderthal and Homo sapiens interbred, leaving a small amount of Neanderthal DNA in modern-day humans who are not of African descent.

The bone in question carries slightly more Neanderthal DNA than non-Africans do today.

The new study, published in the journal Nature, was headed by Svante Paabo, a renowned geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

This discovery affects the theory that Homo sapiens evolved in East Africa around 200,000 years ago. Dating the moment of interbreeding with Neanderthal would indicate when Homo sapiens began the journey out of Africa.

Paabo's team estimate that interbreeding occurred 7,000 to 13,000 years before the Siberian individual lived -- thus no more than 60,000 years ago.

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