Altamura Man yields oldest Neanderthal DNA sample
A team of researchers has confirmed that Altamura Man was a Neanderthal, and revealed that the bones are 128,000 to 187,000 years old.
Altamura Man was discovered in 1993 in the karst caves of Lamalunga, near Altamura, in southern Italy - one of the most extraordinary hominin specimens ever found in Europe. The remains were embedded in rock and covered in a thick layer of calcite. It was thought that excavating the remains would cause irreparable damage, and they have remained in situ. There was some debate initially about morphology and age. Subsequent study led to a consensus that the visible remains (the head, and part of a shoulder) were that of an archaic Neanderthal, of a genus believed to have been widespread in Europe 200,000 to 40,000 years ago.
The researchers with the current project began their work six years ago. A tiny part of shoulder bone was extracted. Uranium-thorium dating revealed that the calcite was formed 172,000 to 130,000 years ago, during the penultimate quaternary (Pleistocene) glaciations period - the last of five glaciations during Earth's history.
DNA has also been retrieved from the sample, and because of the age, represents the oldest ever recovered from Neanderthal remains. The researchers next plan to test the DNA sample to see if it can be sequenced. They are hopeful it might reveal new details about the evolution of hominids in general, and perhaps more about the early history of the Neanderthal.
Edited from PhysOrg (3 April 2015)