DNA from a group of Neanderthals who lived together and a couple of others who lived not far away has provided the best genetic glimpse to date into the social worlds of these ancient hominins.
Already about 59,000 years ago, Neanderthal communities in a mountainous part of Central Asia consisted of small groups of close relatives and newly arrived adult womenresearchers report Oct. 19 in Nature.
That social setting comes courtesy of DNA extracted from the teeth and bones of 13 Neanderthals found in two caves in the foothills of the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia. Estimates of the overall genetic similarity between these Stone Age people indicate that they formed communities of about 20 individuals, with females often migrating from their home groups to those of their mates, says evolutionary geneticist Laurits Skov of the Max Institute. Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues.
It is unknown whether the small-scale lifestyle of the Altai Neanderthals was unusual, perhaps due to living in a sparsely populated area, or whether it reflected Neanderthal practices in other parts of Asia and Europe. large number of Neanderthals in Central Europe turned a forest into grassland around 125,000 years old, suggesting that they could expand communities when needed (Serial number: 12/15/21).
Skov’s group studied the DNA of 11 Neanderthals from Chagyrskaya cave and two Neanderthals from Okladnikov Cave (Serial number: 01/27/20). Chagyrskaya’s individuals included a father and her teenage daughter, as well as an adult woman and a boy aged 8 to 12, who was possibly her nephew or grandson.
In the Chagyrskaya group, mitochondrial DNA, typically inherited from the mother, showed greater diversity than Y-chromosome DNA, which is only inherited by males. The improved variety of mitochondrial DNA suggests that adult females frequently moved into that community while males stayed behind, the researchers suspect.