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Cannibal tooth yields oldest ever human DNA

Posted on Tuesday, 7 April, 2020 | Comment icon 9 comments

A facial reconstruction of Homo antecessor. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 4.0 Milena Guardiola
Scientists have analyzed genetic material from a tooth of an ancient human ancestor that lived 800,000 years ago.
In a new study published earlier this month, researchers have lifted the lid on one of the most perplexing groups of archaic humans - Homo antecessor - through an analysis of fossil specimens unearthed all the way back in 1994 at a site in the Atapuerca Mountains in northern Spain.

The skeletons, which were quite unlike those of any other known human ancestor, were cut and fractured in such a way so as to suggest that the species may have practiced cannibalism.

Now by sequencing the ancient proteins found in the tooth enamel of Homo antecessor, scientists have revealed that this ancient hominim did not fit directly on the same evolutionary tree as humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans but was most likely a sister species of one of our shared ancestors.
"I am happy that the protein study provides evidence that the Homo antecessor species may be closely related to the last common ancestor of Homo sapiens, Neanderthals, and Denisovans," said study co-author Jose Maria Bermudez de Castro.

"The features shared by Homo antecessor with these hominins clearly appeared much earlier than previously thought."

In addition to shedding new light on these mysterious prehistoric cannibals, the study also broke the world record for the oldest sample of human genetic material ever analyzed.

Source: Live Science | Comments (9)

Tags: Human, DNA

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by third_eye on 7 April, 2020, 12:08
Nom nomm nom... Yummy yum yumm ~
Comment icon #2 Posted by Piney on 7 April, 2020, 13:35
Is how the article explains it and if they were cannibals, it was probably a major contributor towards them dying out. 
Comment icon #3 Posted by third_eye on 7 April, 2020, 13:43
Or maybe there was a violent encounter and all they had was hands, feet and teeth...  ~
Comment icon #4 Posted by Piney on 7 April, 2020, 13:49
Very doubtful. Our mutual ancestor, Homo Erectus used spears.  
Comment icon #5 Posted by third_eye on 7 April, 2020, 14:08
Still... I don't believe they'll stop and time out if spears were unavailable...  ~
Comment icon #6 Posted by Nnicolette on 7 April, 2020, 15:24
I think they are inferring that the way the bones were cut and fragmented suggested haven been eaten by each other.
Comment icon #7 Posted by third_eye on 7 April, 2020, 16:09
There's this little odd tradition of keeping tokens of revered kindred that is beginning to surface from studies of ancient burials found so far.  All I am thinking and still believing is cannibalism looks more to me like a collapse of a social system than at the start of social structuring.  Early days yet and still longer days ahead for anything conclusive either way, just a personal question, not saying I'm smarter than the experts.  ~    
Comment icon #8 Posted by acute on 7 April, 2020, 20:07
I hope they did a filling afterwards.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Artaxerxes on 8 April, 2020, 11:09
If you are starving you'll eat anything. Just saying?

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