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Tooth study finds no common ancestor for humans and Neanderthals

An international team of researchers from George Washington University, Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research in Austria, Indiana University, and the Atapuerca Research Team in Spain presented evidence based on tooth analysis that claims no common ancestor linking humans and Neanderthals can be identified from present fossil records. The research was published in the Oct. 21, 2013, issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This image shows diversity in premolar and molar morphology in Neanderthals, modern humans, and potential ancestral species.
This image shows diversity in premolar and molar morphology in Neanderthals, modern humans, and potential ancestral species.
Aida Gómez-Robles in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers examined the fossils of 1,200 molars and premolars from 13 species or types of hominins - humans and human relatives and ancestors. No common ancestor linking Neanderthals and modern humans could be found by morphological, molecular, or statistical methods.

The researchers conclude that “none of the hominins usually proposed as a common ancestor, such as Homo heidelbergensis, Homo erectus, and Homo antecessor, is a satisfactory match.”

The scientists also found more relationship between potential human ancestors discovered in Europe and Neanderthals than with modern humans.

The analysis indicates that the line leading to Neanderthals arose around 1 million years ago and the divergence of humans of humans out of Africa occurred much earlier than the commonly accepted date of 350,000 years ago.

Correlation of this research with samples from known human and hominins from Africa is complicated by the scarcity of fossil and tooth evidence.