Scientists said that prehistoric teeth discovered at a site in Jersey reveal signs of interbreeding between Neanderthals and our species.
UK experts have re-studied 13 teeth that were found between 1910 and 1911 at La Cotte de St Brelade in the southwest of the island.
They have long been seen as typical specimens of Neanderthals, but the reassessment has also revealed the hallmarks of modern human teeth.
The teeth may represent some of the last known remains of Neanderthals.
As such, they might even provide clues as to why our close evolutionary cousins disappeared.
Neanderthals evolved about 400,000 years ago and inhabited a large area from Western Europe to Siberia.
They were usually shorter and less plump than modern humans, with a thick chain of bones hanging from the eyes.
They finally disappeared about 40,000 years ago, just like anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens), A newly arrived species from Africa, that was settled in Europe.
However, these two human species may have overlapped for at least 5,000 years.
The tooth was discovered on a small granite rim at the cave site.
It was previously thought to belong to a single Neanderthal individual. However, the new research found that they were from at least two adults.
The researchers used computerized tomography (CT) scans of the teeth to study them at a level of detail not available to researchers in the past.
While all specimens have some Neanderthal characteristics, some aspects of their shape are more typical of modern human teeth.
This indicates that these were traits prevalent among its inhabitants.
Head of Research Professor Chris Stringer, of the Natural History Museum in London, said: “Given that modern humans have interacted with Neanderthals in some parts of Europe 45,000 years ago, the unusual features of these Lacot individuals indicate that it could have been They have a double Neanderthal – the origin of modern humans. “
At the time these individuals were alive, the climate in this part of the world was cooler than it is today and the sea level was tens of meters lower.
Co-author Dr Matt Pope, of the Institute of Archeology at University College London (UCL), said the area would have been “great for fishing”, due to “clogged valleys and narrow lanes”.
“Caves of this size and size are extremely rare in these landscapes,” he said, adding, “They seem to be an integral part of their routine, as they return to that place for tens of thousands of years.”
In fact, there is a record of occupation at La Cotte dating back to 250,000 years ago.
The age of human teeth is thought to be around 48,000 years old, close to the date of the presumed Neanderthal extinction 40,000 years ago.
So, instead of extinction in the traditional sense, have Neanderthal populations simply been assimilated into incoming modern human populations?
“This should now be a scenario that is being seriously considered, alongside others, and will emerge as we increase our understanding of the gene mix process,” Bob told BBC News.
But it is certain that the word ‘extinct’ is losing its meaning as you can see multiple episodes of mixing and retaining a large proportion of Neanderthal DNA in humans outside of sub-Saharan Africa.
Neanderthals contributed 2-3% of the genome – the handbook of genetic instructions for the formation of a person – to people of ancestry outside of Africa.
Professor Stringer said: “This idea of a hybrid population can be tested by recovering ancient DNA from the teeth, which is something that is now under investigation.”
The study was Published in the Journal of Human Evolution.