PARIS: Anthropologists said on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) they had decoded the oldest DNA ever found in the human family, extracted from a 400,000-year-old thighbone found in a pit in Spain.
The feat expands knowledge of human genetics by some 300,000 years, they said, but also suggests the odyssey of Man’s evolution may have been more convoluted than thought.
The bone was dug up at a presumed burial site dubbed the Sima de los Huesos or “:Pit of Bones,” preserved by a deep subterranean chill in Spain’s northern Sierra de Atapuerca highlands.
“Our results show that we can now study DNA from human ancestors that are hundreds of thousands of years old,” said Svante Paabo, director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, which took part in the study published in the journal Nature.
The previous oldest sequence of DNA from a hominin, a term meaning humans and their relatives, was that of a girl who lived about 80,000 years ago and belonged to an enigmatic Asian group called the Denisovans.
The Sima de los Huesos is the world’s largest concentration of hominin fossils from the Middle Pleistocene period some 700,000 to 100,000 years ago. It has yielded 28 skeletons so far.
The individuals found there had previously been described as members of the Homo heidelbergensis group thought to have been the forerunners of modern-day humans (Homo sapiens) and their cousins, the Neanderthals.