In DepthPALEOGENETICS

DNA from cave soil reveals ancient human occupants

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Science  28 Apr 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6336, pp. 363
DOI: 10.1126/science.356.6336.363

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Summary

Fifty thousand years ago, a Neandertal relieved himself in a cave in present-day Belgium, depositing, among other things, a sample of his DNA. The urine clung to minerals in the soil and the feces eventually decomposed. But traces of the DNA remained, embedded in the cave floor. Now, researchers have shown they can find and identify such genetic traces of both Neandertals and Denisovans, another type of archaic human, enabling them to test for the presence of ancient humans even in sites where no bones have been found. Scientists say ancient DNA from sediments will help them complete the map of ancient human occupations and allow them to see where species may have overlapped and interacted. Many believe it will become a standard tool in paleoarchaeology, much like radiocarbon dating is today.