The Neandertals lived around 30.000 years ago. The Oetzi died around 5.000 years ago. For both human ancestors researchers were able to fully sequence the genome now. Prof. Pääbo and his group from the MPI in Leipzig published around ~60% of the Neandertal genome in Science (2010). And quite impressively from my point of view is that they give full access to the genome to everyone: they simply put all data on their website. What also fascinated me is that it is quite difficult to study the resemblance between the Neandertal and modern humans since most of the bones found from the Neandertal are “contaminated” with modern human genes. And of course this is obvious since no anthropologist is wearing gloves by default and therefore all people touching the bones to do studies about age and the lifestile of our ancestors will leave their genes on the bones.
An eye opener for me is also that the most obvious thing we discover in the genome is always the impairment of a species. A good example is the recent publication of the complete genome of the Iceman (Oetzi). 96% of the Iceman’s genome has been sequenced and what did we learn: he belonged to blood group O, was lactose intolerant, had probably a genetic tendency towards coronary heart disease, and was carrying Lyme disease.
But researchers also found interesting information about the linkage of both Oetzi and Neandertal to modern humans:
The genome of Oetzi has been compared to 1300 Europeans, 125 North Africans and 20 people from the Arab peninsula. The study revealed that his closest living kin are found on Sardinia and Corsica.
For the Neandertal five modern humans from different populations were used for comparison studies. The stunning result is that some Neandertals and early modern humans interbred since 1 to 4% of the DNA of many humans who live outside of Africa originate from the Neandertal.
In all the discussions about our ancestors and close relatives I sometimes come to think if we will be close relatives in let’s say 1 million years? Wouldn’t it be possible that a new population or species of humans develop? It sounds absurd or science fiction-like but who are we that we think there is nothing “after us”?