DNA from a group of Neanderthals, who lived at the same time as two others not far away, have provided the best genetic peek to date into the social worlds of ancient hominids.
Early and around 59,000 years ago, Neanderthal communities in the mountainous part of Central Asia consisted of small groups of relatives and adult female immigrants, researchers report on October 19. nature.
That joint mission comes courtesy of DNA extracted from the teeth and bones of 13 Neanderthals found at two caves in the foothills of the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia. Estimates of the overall genetic similarity between these Stone Ages indicate that they formed communities of about 20 people, with females often migrating from the domestic group to their partners, geneticist Laurits Skov of Max Planck for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig; Germany, colleagues.
It is unknown whether the small Altai Neandertals had an unusual way of life, perhaps due to the infrequency of people living in the area, or whether Neanderthal practices were mirrored elsewhere in Asia and Europe. Many Neanderthals in Central Europe changed forest to countryside around 125,000 years ago, suggesting that communities could move up when needed (SN: 12/15/21).
Skov studied the DNA group of 11 Neanderthals from Chagyrskaya Cave and two Neanderthals from Okladnikov Cave (SN: 1/27/20). In Chagyrskaya, each included a father and his teenage daughter as well as an adult woman and an 8- to 12-year-old boy, who may have been a nephew or niece.
In the Chagyrskaya group, mitochondrial DNA, typically inherited from the mother, shows a greater difference than DNA from the Y chromosome, which is inherited only by males. The researchers suspect that increased mitochondrial DNA diversity suggests that adult females often move into that city while males do.
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