Sacramento and Davis scientists from the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Davis are studying Neandertal bone tools and finding these prehistoric peoples were smarter and more inventive with practical tools than previously judged by scientists. You may have inherited 72% of your immune system's DNA from prehistoric mating with Neandertal and Denisovan males if you're non-African or African mixed with European and/or Asian genes. In the Sacramento and Davis area, a University of California, Davis student's discovery in a lab helped researchers determine that Neandertals, not modern humans, made first bone tools.
The reason why is that only the male side of the DNA from Neandertals and Denisovans shows up in modern humans not of African ancestry. Those of African ancestry just don't have those particular prehistoric genes from Neandertals or Denisovans. Humans traveling out of Africa mated with Neandertals in the Middle East and with Denisovans and Neandertals in the Altai of southern Siberia, Central Asia, and in various parts of East Asia, Australia, and Melanesia. And the genes show up in people today, perhaps enhancing their immune systems.
One day in 2011, undergraduate student Naomi Martisius was sorting through tiny bone remnants in the University of California, Davis, paleoanthropology lab when she stumbled across a peculiar piece. The article, "Neandertals made the first specialized bone tools in Europe," is available online. Check out the abstract of the new study.
The bone fragment, from a French archaeological site, turned out to be a part of an early specialized bone tool used by a Neandertal before the first modern humans appeared in Europe. "At the time, I had no idea about the impact of my discovery," explains Martisius, in the September 19, 2013 news release, "UC Davis researchers find Neandertals, not modern humans, made first bone tools." Martisius is now pursuing her doctoral degree in anthropology at UC Davis.
Martisius' opportunity was the result of a decade of excavation and research by two international teams. Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in August, 2013. "Previously these types of bone tools have only been associated with modern humans," said Teresa E. Steele, associate professor of anthropology at UC Davis, who also served as a co-author on the article and adviser to Martisius at UC Davis and at archaeological excavations in France. Check out the slideshow from Quelle images, "From deer rib to tool."
"Our identification of these pieces in secure Neandertal contexts leaves open the possibility that we have found, for the first time, evidence that Neandertals may have influenced the technology of modern humans," Martisius says in athe news release. Used to smooth tough animal hides, the tools were made about 50,000 years ago by Neandertals -- not just the humans who came after them, as researchers had earlier theorized. The specialized tools are still used today, in similar form, to smooth and refine leather made into high-end purses and jackets. Check out the slide show, "From deer rib to tool," from Quelle/images.
The bone tools were found in deposits containing typical Neandertal stone tools and the bones of hunted animals including reindeer, red deer and bison
Three of the four pieces were from the site of Abri Peyrony, France. The animal bones from that site had been exported to UC Davis for analysis in Steele's lab where Martisius worked with her to study the material. Now in her second year of doctoral studies at UC Davis, Martisius will carry on her research of these pieces. She, Steele and their colleagues will use resources available at UC Davis to conduct experimental studies to manufacture -- and use -- new, similar animal bone tools for comparison.
Using sophisticated imaging techniques, Martisius will examine the pieces made by the Neandertals, comparing those with the ones first made by the first modern humans in Europe and the ones she manufactures at UC Davis. She said she also will look at animal bones from nearby sites to see if she can identify additional pieces made by Neandertals.
The tools described in their current work were recovered in archaeological sites in the French countryside that had been explored for more than 100 years, but modern archaeological techniques enabled researchers to recognize these smaller pieces now identified as pieces of once-sophisticated tools, Steele says in the news release.
Modern humans replaced Neandertals about 40,000 years ago, the abstract of this latest study explains. Close to the time of replacement, Neandertals show behaviors similar to those of the modern humans arriving into Europe, including the use of specialized bone tools, body ornaments, and small blades.
It's highly debated whether these modern behaviors developed before or as a result of contact with modern humans. In this latest study the researchers reported the identification of a type of specialized bone tool known as a 'lissoir,' previously only associated with modern humans.
The microwear preserved on one of these lissoir is consistent with the use of lissoir in modern times to obtain supple, lustrous, and more impermeable hides. These tools are from a Neandertal context proceeding the replacement period and are the oldest specialized bone tools in Europe. As such, they are either a demonstration of independent invention by Neandertals or an indication that modern humans started influencing European Neandertals much earlier than previously believed, says the study's abstract. Because these finds clearly predate the oldest known age for the use of similar objects in Europe by anatomically modern humans, they could also be evidence for cultural diffusion from Neandertals to modern humans.
What type of cultural diffusion might there have been moving from Neandertals to modern humans? How about spoken language?
Spoken language may go back a million years, back to and shared by the common ancestor of both Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens. A recent study suggests that Neanderthals shared speech and language with modern humans, according to the recent paper, "On the antiquity of language: the reinterpretation of Neanderthal linguistic capacities and its consequences" appearing in this month's issue of the journal Frontiers in Language Sciences.
Have you ever wondered what the first words spoken were? About food, clothing, shelter, body decorations, or relationships? Neanderthals were genetically suited for very cold climates with barrel chests, wide waists, and short, stocky builds. Many of them carried the gene for reddish hair and brown hair as do modern humans. Now new genetic data points to the language they may have shared with their cousins, our ancestors.
Neanderthals were closer to modern humans than ever imaged decades ago before their genome was researched
Fast-accumulating data seem to indicate that our close cousins, the Neanderthals, were much more similar to us than imagined even a decade ago. But did they have anything like modern speech and language? Scientists think language can be traced back to the common ancestor Neanderthals shared with Homo Sapiens.
And if so, what are the implications for understanding present-day linguistic diversity? The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, Netherlands researchers Dan Dediu and Stephen C. Levinson argue in their paper in the journal Frontiers in Language Sciences that modern language and speech can be traced back to the last common ancestor we shared with the Neanderthals roughly half a million years ago, says a July 9, 2013 news release, "Did Neanderthals have language?."
Only a few years ago in May 2010, the first genome sequence from an extinct human relative is now available. Together with an international research team, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig present an initial draft of the genome sequence of the Neanderthal, a human form which died out some 30,000 years ago, according to the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft.
The Neanderthals have fascinated both the academic world and the general public ever since their discovery almost 200 years ago. Initially thought to be subhuman brutes incapable of anything but the most primitive of grunts, they were a successful form of humanity inhabiting vast swathes of western Eurasia for several hundreds of thousands of years, during harsh ages and milder interglacial periods.
We knew that they were our closest cousins, sharing a common ancestor with us around half a million years ago (probably Homo heidelbergensis). But it was unclear what their cognitive capacities were like, or why modern humans succeeded in replacing them after thousands of years of cohabitation.
Recently, due to new palaeoanthropological and archaeological discoveries and the reassessment of older data, but especially to the availability of ancient DNA, we have started to realize that their fate was much more intertwined with ours and that, far from being slow brutes, their cognitive capacities and culture were comparable to ours. That means language could be as old as a million years instead of the 50,000 years scientists had always thought before the Neanderthal's entire genome was researched.
Language is perhaps a million years old
Dediu and Levinson review all these strands of literature and argue that essentially modern language and speech are an ancient feature of our lineage dating back at least to the most recent ancestor we shared with the Neanderthals and the Denisovans (another form of humanity known mostly from their genome). Their interpretation of the intrinsically ambiguous and scant evidence goes against the scenario usually assumed by most language scientists, namely that of a sudden and recent emergence of modernity, presumably due to a single – or very few – genetic mutations.
This pushes back the origins of modern language by a factor of 10 from the often-cited 50 or so thousand years, to around a million years ago – somewhere between the origins of our genus, Homo, some 1.8 million years ago, and the emergence of Homo heidelbergensis. This reassessment of the evidence goes against a saltationist scenario where a single catastrophic mutation in a single individual would suddenly give rise to language, and suggests that a gradual accumulation of biological and cultural innovations is much more plausible.
Interestingly, given that we know from the archaeological record and recent genetic data that the modern humans spreading out of Africa interacted both genetically and culturally with the Neanderthals and Denisovans, then just as our bodies carry around some of their genes, maybe our languages preserve traces of their languages too. Denisovans lived in Siberia, Central Asia, and East Asia, Neanderthals in the Middle East and Europe.
This would mean that at least some of the observed linguistic diversity is due to these ancient encounters, an idea testable by comparing the structural properties of the African and non-African languages, and by detailed computer simulations of language spread.
Neandertals and Denisovans may have mated with Homo Sapien women
Depending on what part of the world from which your ancestors arrived, humans not only interbred with Neanderthals, they also mated with Denisovans, according to several new studies. See, "New DNA analysis shows ancient humans interbred with Denisovans." Denisovans lived in the large area going from Siberia to East Asia. Neanderthals lived in the Middle East and Europe. See the YouTube video, "Modern humans may have interbred with Neanderthals and Denisovans.
And both mixed with Homo Sapiens, depending on where any of your prehistoric ancestors lived. In 2012 the entire genome of Denisovans were mapped. See, "Denisovans, an ancient human group, have genome mapped." And Neanderthals also have had their genome mapped in March 2013, making it scientifically possible to clone them back, if anyone ever tries. See, "Entire Neanderthal Genome Mapped For The First Time | Fast."
A recent DNA study suggests Asia was settled in multiple waves of migration from undifferentiated peoples that didn't resemble the way modern Chinese or Indonesian people look in current times, reports a September 22, 2011 news release by by Debra Ruder, "DNA study suggests Asia was settled in multiple waves of migration." Analysis reveals archaic Denisovans lived from Siberia to Southeast Asia. An international team of researchers studying DNA patterns from modern and archaic humans has uncovered new clues about the movement and intermixing of populations more than 40,000 years ago in Asia. One archaeogentics study showed a Denisovan girl found had brown hair, brown eyes, and brown skin. See, "Genome of Mysterious Extinct Human Reveals Brown-Eyed Girl." People have changed in the past 30,000 years.
The scientists in one archeological and genetic project discovered about 100,000 recent changes in our genome that occurred after the split from the Denisovans. A number of these changes influence genes linked with brain function and nervous system development, leading to speculation that we may think differently from the Denisovans. Other changes are linked with the skin, eyes and teeth. See, "Genome of ancient Denisovans may help clarify human evolution."
In another study, using state-of-the-art genome analysis methods, scientists from Harvard Medical School and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have found that Denisovans—a recently identified group of archaic humans whose DNA was extracted last year from a finger bone excavated in Siberia—contributed DNA not just to present-day New Guineans, but also to aboriginal Australian and Philippine populations.
The study demonstrates that contrary to the findings of the largest previous genetic studies, modern humans settled Asia in more than one migration
According to David Reich, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, "Denisova DNA is like a medical imaging dye that traces a person's blood vessels. It is so recognizable that you can detect even a little bit of it in one individual. In a similar way, we were able to trace Denisova DNA in the migrations of people. This shows the power of sequencing ancient DNA as a tool for understanding human history."
The patterns the researchers found can only be explained by at least two waves of human migration: the first giving rise to the aboriginal populations that currently live in Southeast Asia and Oceania, and later migrations giving rise to relatives of East Asians who now are the primary population of Southeast Asia.
The study also provides new insights about where the ancient Denisovans lived
According to Mark Stoneking, a professor at the Max Planck Institute who is senior author of the paper, Denisovans must have inhabited an extraordinarily large ecological and geographic range, from Siberia to tropical Southeast Asia. "The fact that Denisovan DNA is present in some aboriginal populations of Southeast Asia but not in others shows that there was a checkerboard of populations with and without Denisova material more than 44,000 years ago," he said. "The presence of Denisovan genetic material in some but not all the groups there can most easily be explained if Denisovans lived in Southeast Asia itself."
The findings appear on September 22, 2011 in the The American Journal of Human Genetics - Cell. This research builds on previous work by Reich and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute, in which they analyzed an ancient pinky bone uncovered by Russian archaeologists in the Siberian Denisova Cave in 2008. The Max Planck Institute team led by Svante Pääbo sequenced the bone's nuclear genome, and Reich led the population genetic analysis using algorithms that he and colleagues developed.
Reporting December 2010 in Nature, the team identified Denisovans as a distinct group of archaic humans (hominins) that lived more than 30,000 years ago and contributed genes to present-day New Guineans. They concluded that Denisovans were neither Neandertals nor early modern humans, though they shared a common ancestry. This paper helped fill in some empty pieces in the evolutionary puzzle that began after early humans left Africa and reinforces the view that humans have intermixed throughout history.
The new study was initiated by Stoneking, an expert on genetic variation in Southeast Asia and Oceania who has assembled diverse samples from that region. The study takes a closer look at the Denisovans' genetic footprint. The researchers analyzed DNA from dozens of present-day populations in Southeast Asia and Oceania, including Borneo, Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and Polynesia. Some of the data already existed, and some were newly collected for the study.
Their analysis shows that, in addition to New Guineans, Denisovans contributed genetic material to Australian aborigines, a Philippine "Negrito" group called Mamanwa, and several other populations in eastern Southeast Asia and Oceania. However, groups in the west or northwest, including other Negrito groups such as the Onge in the Andaman Islands and the Jehai in Malaysia, as well as mainland East Asians, did not interbreed with Denisovans.
The researchers concluded that:
- Denisovans interbred with modern humans in Southeast Asia at least 44,000 years ago before the time of the separation of the Australians and New Guineans.
- Southeast Asia was first colonized by modern humans unrelated to present-day Chinese and Indonesians, and that these and other East Asians arrived in later migrations. This "southern route" hypothesis has previously been supported by archaeological evidence, but has never had strong genetic support.
Investigators from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, from Germany, India, Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia, and The Netherlands also contributed. This study was funded by the Max Planck Society and the National Science Foundation HOMINID program. For more information, check out the site, "Human Origins (HOMINID) - National Science Foundation."
Modern humans have about 1 to 3% Neanderthal DNA and some Denisovan DNA, usually about 2% or less, But up to 6% in Melanesians and Australians. Australian Aborigines have the highest proportion of Denisovan DNA, at about 4 to 6%. Modern Africans lack Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA.
Some modern human immune system genes - HLA-A genes - contain very high proportions of DNA from these archaic cousins. So, it appears that modern humans may have mated with Neanderthals and Denisovans as the former spread out of Africa and across Eurasia, in the process gaining important disease-resistance genes.