Research Article

Neandertal and Denisovan DNA from Pleistocene sediments

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Science  12 May 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6338, pp. 605-608
DOI: 10.1126/science.aam9695

Tracing our ancestors in cave sediments

Analysis of DNA from archaic hominids has illuminated human evolution. However, sites where thousand-year-old bones and other remains can be found are relatively rare. Slon et al. wanted to exploit any trace remains that our ancestors left behind. They looked for ancient DNA of hominids and other mammals in cave sediments, even those lacking skeletal remains. They identified mitochondrial DNA from Neandertal and Denisovan individuals in cave sediments at multiple sites.

Science, this issue p. 605


Although a rich record of Pleistocene human-associated archaeological assemblages exists, the scarcity of hominin fossils often impedes the understanding of which hominins occupied a site. Using targeted enrichment of mitochondrial DNA, we show that cave sediments represent a rich source of ancient mammalian DNA that often includes traces of hominin DNA, even at sites and in layers where no hominin remains have been discovered. By automation-assisted screening of numerous sediment samples, we detected Neandertal DNA in eight archaeological layers from four caves in Eurasia. In Denisova Cave, we retrieved Denisovan DNA in a Middle Pleistocene layer near the bottom of the stratigraphy. Our work opens the possibility of detecting the presence of hominin groups at sites and in areas where no skeletal remains are found.

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