In 1997, scientists found the first scrap of Neanderthal DNA in a fossil. Since then, they have recovered genetic material, even entire genomes, from a number of Neanderthal bones, and their investigations have yielded a remarkable surprise: Today, 1 to 2 percent of the DNA in non-African people comes from Neanderthals.
That genetic legacy is the result of interbreeding roughly 50,000 years ago between Neanderthals and the common ancestors of Europeans and Asians. Recent studies suggest that Neanderthal genes even influence human health today, contributing to conditions from allergies to depression.
Now scientists have found that the genes flowed both ways. In a study published on Wednesday in Nature, a team of scientists reports that another instance of interbreeding left Neanderthals in Siberia with chunks of human DNA.
This exchange, the scientists conclude, took place about 100,000 years ago. That’s a puzzling date, because a great deal of evidence indicates that the ancestors of today’s non-Africans did not expand out of Africa until 50,000 to 60,000 years ago.
It’s possible, then, that these Neanderthals acquired DNA from a mysterious early migration of humans.