Neandertal

Scientists Sequence Ancient Neandertal DNA From Cave Dirt

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An entrance to the archaeological site of Vindija Cave, Croatia where Neandertal DNA was found in the cave sediment.
An entrance to the archaeological site of Vindija Cave, Croatia where Neandertal DNA was found in the cave sediment.

J. Krause/ MPI

An entrance to the archaeological site of Vindija Cave, Croatia where Neandertal DNA was found in the cave sediment.

Need DNA? No body? No problem. New research in Science by an international team of researchers lead by Viviane Slon at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany has shown a relatively straightforward way to sequence the DNA from of our hominin relatives without any of their skeletal remains, greatly expanding the horizons of ancient DNA research.

Extracting animal DNA from sources like sediment, dirt, and water is a roundabout way for scientists to detect hard-to-find species in certain environments, but new research has found this method is also applicable for detecting where hominins once lived thousands of years ago. Archaeological sites in Europe and Asia contain stone tools that were made by hominins like Neandertals, but often there is no trace of skeletal remains. Since…

Ancient dental plaque tells tales of Neandertal diet and disease

upper jaw from Neandertal
Calcified dental plaque from the upper jaw of a young Neandertal male from El Sidron cave in Spain reveals insights into his vegetarian diet and dental health problems.

Dental plaque preserved in fossilized teeth confirms that Neandertals were flexible eaters and may have self-medicated with an ancient equivalent of aspirin.

DNA recovered from calcified plaque on teeth from four Neandertal individuals suggest that those from the grasslands around Beligum’s Spy cave ate woolly rhinoceros and wild sheep, while their counterparts from the forested El Sidron cave in Spain consumed a menu of moss,…