Altamura Man yields oldest Neanderthal DNA sample

April 3, 2015 by Bob Yirka report
Altamura Man, surrounded by limestone deposits. Credit: Wikipedia

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers working in Italy has confirmed that Altamura Man was a Neanderthal and dating of pieces of calcite which were on the remains has revealed that the bones are 128,000 to 187,000 years old. In their paper published in the Journal of Human Evolution, the team describes how they extracted a small bone sample and examined it and what they found by doing so.

Altamura Man was discovered in a cave in southern Italy in 1993 by cave explorers. The finding was reported to researchers at the University of Bari. The remains were embedded in rock and were covered in a thick layer of (they lie in a karst borehole rich in limestone amid running water.) It was thought that excavating the remains would cause and thus, they have remained in situ for over twenty years, leaving researchers to rely on casual observation for their studies. For that reason, there was some debate initially about morphology and age. Subsequent study led to a consensus that the remains (only the head and part of a shoulder are visible) were that of an archaic Neanderthal, of a Homo genus believed to have been widespread in Europe 200,000 to 40,000 years ago.

The researchers with the current project began their work six years ago—a tiny part of shoulder bone (and stalactite fragments) was extracted and brought back to the lab for study. Analysis by Uranium-thorium dating revealed that the calcite was formed 172,000 to 130,000 years ago—during the penultimate quaternary glaciations period. The team also reports that samples of DNA have also been retrieved from the sample, and because of the age, represent the oldest such samples ever recovered from Neanderthal remains.

It is believed that Altamura Man wound up in such a peculiar spot after falling in a well and getting stuck—it is assumed he starved to death, or died from lack of water intake. The researchers next plan to test the DNA sample to see if it can be sequenced—if so, they are hopeful it might reveal new details about the evolution of hominids in general and perhaps more about the early history of the Neanderthal.

Explore further: Neanderthals died out earlier than originally believed

More information: The Neanderthal in the karst: First dating, morphometric, and paleogenetic data on the fossil skeleton from Altamura (Italy), Journal of Human Evolution, Available online 21 March 2015 DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2015.02.007

Abstract
In 1993, a fossil hominin skeleton was discovered in the karst caves of Lamalunga, near Altamura, in southern Italy. Despite the fact that this specimen represents one of the most extraordinary hominin specimens ever found in Europe, for the last two decades our knowledge of it has been based purely on the documented on-site observations. Recently, the retrieval from the cave of a fragment of bone (part of the right scapula) allowed the first dating of the individual, the quantitative analysis of a diagnostic morphological feature, and a preliminary paleogenetic characterization of this hominin skeleton from Altamura. Overall, the results concur in indicating that it belongs to the hypodigm of Homo neanderthalensis, with some phenetic peculiarities that appear consistent with a chronology ranging from 172 ± 15 ka to 130.1 ± 1.9 ka. Thus, the skeleton from Altamura represents the most ancient Neanderthal from which endogenous DNA has ever been extracted.

Related Stories

Neanderthals died out earlier than originally believed

May 10, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- According to a newly released report in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a newly refined method of radiocarbon dating has found that Neanderthals died off much earlier than originally ...

Recommended for you

Reconstructing the sixth century plague from a victim

August 30, 2016

Before the infamous Black Death, the first great plague epidemic was the Justinian plague, which, over the course of two centuries, wiped out up to an estimated 50 million (15 percent) of the world's population throughout ...

New species of pterosaur discovered in Patagonia

August 30, 2016

Scientists today announced the discovery of a new species of pterosaur from the Patagonia region of South America. The cranial remains were in an excellent state of preservation and belonged to a new species of pterosaur ...

10 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

gkam
5 / 5 (2) Apr 03, 2015
Has anybody found Homo Sapiens DNA in Neanderthals?
OlDreamerDavid
3 / 5 (4) Apr 03, 2015
Excellent. Research that evolutionists and creationists alike can appreciate.
OlDreamerDavid
4 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2015
gkam, Neanderthals are either Homo sapiens or a sub-species. There's a few minor differences, but not much more than between individuals living today. Living humans rarely have sequences that are more common in Neanderthals, indicating that there was some cross-breeding going on.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (6) Apr 04, 2015
@gkam:

Well, yes, the two species* share a recent common ancestor, so we have more common genes than most, ~ 99.9 % of genes. But every extant cell share ~ 40 % of genes, say bacteria and we share that much, so that question isn't informative outside of relationship.

* They do show that mutual incompatibility was ongoing, some sperm competition gene incompatibility, so are explicitly different species according to speciation specialist [sic!] Coyne. The species barrier wasn't complete though.

Perhaps you are really asking that, since we find Neanderthal (and Denisovan, another hominid species) genes that have introgressed from crossbreeding into Sapiens, we also see genes that moved in the other direction?

I think the sample of sequenced Neanderthals, as well as their quality, is too low to answer that question as of yet. Keep tuning in, as finds such as the Altamura Man gets sequenced!

[tbctd]
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (6) Apr 04, 2015
[ctd]

FWIW, there are samples of what likely became Neanderthals and Denisovans, european H. heidelbergiensis, that has showed introgression from another group.

[ http://en.wikiped...s_Huesos ]

(Also, re the sperm competition genes, I find it funny that it was H. neanderthalensis that was the 'better' (more fit) species there. IIRC. Bigger brains _and_ bigger testes. =D

Speciation is a funny, complex, thing, and I'm sure that besides Coyne's blog, where you can read about the Neanderthal as another species, his book about evolution is good. I haven't read it, but I expect it covers speciation.

They are both titled "Why Evolution Is True".)
Steve 200mph Cruiz
4.8 / 5 (4) Apr 04, 2015
Oldreamer,

This isn't a two sided debate, evolution is the correct way of describing how life behaves over time. If you think anything else you are just wrong. The earth is round, saying it's a dodecahedron is closer than saying it's flat, but it's still just wrong, the earth is only one shape.
Bongstar420
5 / 5 (1) Apr 04, 2015
Oldreamer,

This isn't a two sided debate, evolution is the correct way of describing how life behaves over time. If you think anything else you are just wrong. The earth is round, saying it's a dodecahedron is closer than saying it's flat, but it's still just wrong, the earth is only one shape.


I thought rocky planets had more of an irregular spherical shape.
PhotonX
5 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2015
OFF TOPIC
Oldreamer,

This isn't a two sided debate, evolution is the correct way of describing how life behaves over time. If you think anything else you are just wrong. The earth is round, saying it's a dodecahedron is closer than saying it's flat, but it's still just wrong, the earth is only one shape.


I thought rocky planets had more of an irregular spherical shape.
In this context, the word 'round' is understood to mean 'spherical'. Just as when someone says "I'm always forgetting my phone" it's understood that they mean 'often', and not every single time they leave the house. I remember Robert Sheckley saying something like "Don't pick at the metaphor--it leaves a nasty scab." That applies here, as well. Having said that, I sometimes pick on people for saying 'always' when they mean something else, so I have room for improvement here myself.
.
.
jsdarkdestruction
5 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2015
Excellent. Research that evolutionists and creationists alike can appreciate.

Did you see the part about it being the oldest sample found and they date it to 128,000-187,000 years? That is much older than the creationists think the bible tells them the age of the earth and creation is. Like 20-30 times more. I am surprised none have yet showed up to
Rant about geology and dating techniques being a scam by athiest "evolutionists".
Steve 200mph Cruiz
5 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2015
I think he knows Photon, he's just being funny.
I guess scientific ideas kind of follow the rules of calculus, you can always break it into smaller and smaller parts, it's the details that count

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.