Skeleton Uncovered In Italy Yields Oldest Neanderthal DNA Ever Found

An ancient skeleton, found deeply embedded in a cave in Italy, has provided researchers with the oldest Neanderthal DNA ever found.

According to Live Science

“In 1993, scientists found an extraordinarily intact skeleton of an ancient human amidst the stalactites and stalagmites of the limestone cave of Lamalunga, near Altamura in southern Italy — a discovery they said had the potential to reveal new clues about Neanderthals.”

Recent research now shows that DNA collected from this skeleton indicates that the fossilized remains are indeed those of a Neanderthal.

What’s more, the scientists were able to date the skeleton to roughly 130,000 to 170,000 years old, making it the oldest Neanderthal specimen that scientists have ever extracted DNA from. However, according to NBC News

“These bones are not the oldest known Neanderthal fossils — the oldest ones ever found are about 200,000 years old. This isn’t the oldest DNA ever extracted from a human, either; that accolade goes to 400,000-year-old DNA collected from relatives of Neanderthals.”

Credit: Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities/Superintendent of the Archaeology of Puglia

But while the find is not necessarily one of the oldest Neanderthals ever discovered, the fact that the skeleton provides researchers with the oldest Neanderthal DNA ever collected is a major win for the study of ancient humans. According to NBC News

These molecules, which could be up to 170,000 years old, could one day help yield the most complete picture yet of Neanderthal life, researchers say.”

In the current day and age, we humans (Homo sapiens) are the only remaining human species roaming the planet, but this wasn’t always the case.

Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis), who use to live in Europe and Asia before going extinct roughly 40,000 years ago, are the closest relatives to modern humans. Other archaic human species include Homo heidelbergensis and Homo rhodesiensis.

Read more from Live Science or NBC News.

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