Source: University College London
Neanderthals and modern humans diverged at least 800,000 years ago, substantially earlier than indicated by most DNA-based estimates, according to new research.
The research analysed dental evolutionary rates across different hominin species, focusing on early Neanderthals. It shows that the teeth of hominins from Sima de los Huesos, Spain, ancestors of the Neanderthals, diverged from the modern human lineage earlier than previously assumed.
Sima de los Huesos is a cave site in Atapuerca Mountains, Spain, where archaeologists have recovered fossils of almost 30 people. Previous studies date the site to around 430,000 years ago (Middle Pleistocene), making it one of the oldest and largest collections of human remains discovered to date.
Dental shape has evolved at very similar rates across all hominin species, including those with very expanded and very reduced teeth
This new study examined the time at which Neanderthals and modern humans should have diverged to make the evolutionary rate of the early Neanderthals from Sima de los Huesos similar to those observed in other hominins.
The research used quantitative data to measure the evolution of dental shape across hominin species assuming different divergent times between Neanderthals and modern humans, and accounting for the uncertainty about the evolutionary relationships between different hominin species.