Modern humans diverged from Neanderthals much sooner than believed

Neanderthals and Modern Humans Diverged Earlier than Thought: Study

Modern humans diverged from Neanderthals much sooner than believed: study

These findings produce significant implications in the hunt for modern humans' last common ancestors with Neanderthals, since it rules out all hominins that came after 800,000 years ago.

Neanderthals and modern humans diverged earlier than previously thought, according to a new survey of ancient teeth. Previous estimates based on DNA and cranial features placed the divergence at around 400,000 years ago, according to the report.

The team analyzed dental evolutionary rates of a variety of hominins, including bones from Sima de los Huesos in Spain that are ancestors of Neanderthals.

The proposed new timeline is around 300,000 years earlier than current estimates, and would in turn mean that Homo heidelbergensis, another extinct human species, can not be the last common ancestor between our species and our Neanderthal cousins, as many anthropologists presently believe.

"The major implication is Homo heidelbergensis can not be the last common ancestor between modern humans and Neanderthals", she told AFP.

Dental shape has evolved at very similar rates across all hominin species, including those with very expanded and very reduced teeth.

The proposed new timeline is around 300,000 years earlier than current estimates, and would in turn mean that Homo heidelbergensis, another extinct human species, can not be the last common ancestor between our species and our Neanderthal cousins, as many anthropologists presently believe.

This divergence time, however, is not compatible with the anatomical and genetic Neanderthal similarities observed in the hominins from Sima de los Huesos.

"When we are talking about the divergence between Neanderthals and modern humans, or between any two species, that is not something that happens at one specific moment of time", she told AFP.

Although this study presents compelling evidence, experts may disagree.

By using dental evolutionary rates, scientists were able to calculate the time at which Neanderthals and modern humans should have diverged to make the evolutionary rate of the Sima de los Huesos Neanderthals consistent with the rate of other hominins: at least 800,000 years ago.

Gomez-Robles and her colleagues shared their analysis of Sima de los Huesos teeth this week in the journal Science Advances.

The study by Aida Gomez-Robles from University College London proposes that the two species' last common ancestor may have lived 800,000 years ago, entering a debate that is hotly contested among anthropologists.

But the study was criticized by Susan Cachel, a professor in human evolution at Rutgers University, who asked: "If the ancestors of anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals do not come from the taxon Homo heidelbergensis, then where do they come from?"

"The Sima people's teeth are very different from those that we would expect to find in their last common ancestral species with modern humans, suggesting that they evolved separately over a long period of time to develop such stark differences".

Natasha Downes, UCL Media Relations.

The time of divergence between Neanderthals and human just got called into question. We were the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to open up university education to those previously excluded from it, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine.

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