Research conducted based on items dating from hundreds of thousands of years ago led scientist to draw a conclusion that contradicts what we know at the moment about ancient human evolution.
Modern humans and Neanderthals diverged at least 800,000 years ago
Archaeologists analyzed one of the most impressive human fossils selection, containing the remains of roughly 30 individuals found in the cave site Sima de Los Huesos, Spain, which dates 430,000 years ago. Scientists can all agree that modern humans and Neanderthals evolved from the same ancestor. However, the exact timespan when the divergence between these two species actually occurred is a highly debated issue.
The results of the research shows that modern humans and Neanderthals divided at least 800,000 years ago, a conclusion which contradicts the results of the previous studies conducted in the same regard. This period is considerably earlier than we thought up to this point. The analysis of the hominin remains strongly impacted the previous time interval scientists estimated to coincide with the divergence of the breeds. Considering ancient DNA research, the divergence happened between 300,000 and 500,000 years ago.
However, there is a missing piece of the puzzle since the divergence timespan is incompatible with Neanderthal resemblance from an anatomical and genetic point of view of the anthropoids of the Spanish cave site. Considering DNA research and anatomical feature analysis, these are instead believed to be Neanderthal ancestors.
Dental shapes – the key to the puzzle?
Specialists tried to decipher the transformation of the dental shape across humanoid species by using quantitative data. The fossils found in Sima de Los Huesos seem quite similar from an anatomical point of view with the traditional Neanderthal when talking about dental shape. They had very small premolar and molars, a fact that led scientists to believe that they evolved from the dental structure of the last common ancestor of both species, which had large and more primitive teeth.
Dental shape transformed through evolution similarly across each of the hominin species, such that this study is aimed towards analyzing the time of divergence between modern humans and Neanderthals to associate the rate of evolution of the Neanderthals found in the Spanish cave site with others hominins observed.
Jasmine holds a Master’s in Journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto and writes professionally in a broad variety of genres. She has worked as a senior manager in public relations and communications for major telecommunication companies, and is the former Deputy Director for Media Relations with the Modern Coalition. Jasmine writes primarily in our LGBTTQQIAAP and Science section.