Wed 26 May 21 in Science

The hidden life of Neanderthals

#Nature

Finding out more about the past is an adventure in itself. Aside from historical sources such as chronicles and ancient etchings on stones, archaeology finds sources in remains. Discovering where people came from goes back so far that writings were not a thing, so the only thing to find is bones, tools, or other scattered remnants. 

 

 

Uncovering our lineage

Tracing human lineage has uncovered a slew of humanoid beings that evolved into what we today call homo sapiens. Problems arise when trying to uncover the lives these ancient people had.

It is very difficult to crystalize a whole image of them with very little evidence. A relatively new technique used to study past remains is DNA sequencing, and an even more recent method of unearthing DNA is from cave sediments. 

 

 

The missing link

There usually is a “missing link” when studying hominin history. Whenever a mystery is uncovered another one appears, hence the quest for the “missing link” never stops. Lack of specific evidence on various case studies breeds frustration, which can now be overcome.

There does not need to be fossil remains such as bone, or tools to uncover whether humans populated a site, their rubbish will suffice. Scrubbing their leftovers for DNA provide sufficient evidence and this technique will prove revolutionary.

 

 

A shift in population

This very technology has been used in a cave from Spain called the Galery of Statues. The cave itself is very well-studied, scientists have evidence Neanderthals lived there for a period of around 40 thousand years. Each study of this cave from the past covered a new layer of sediment, which enables paleontologists to date the samples they find.

What the results told them now, was a shift in the Neanderthal population that inhabited the site. 100 000 years ago the group originally living there was replaced by a different group of Neanderthals.

 

 

Lingering mysteries

The ability to detect slight changes in DNA like this and establish who loved where and how long ago changes happened is invaluable for future studies. There are still hominin species about which there is little evidence to claim origin or changing patterns of life.

This new technology can be applied to other species such as the Denisovans and Hobbit, both mysterious and with very little remains discovered. Shedding light on such mysteries will undoubtedly help homo sapiens peer back the curtains on the evolutionary past. 

 

 

Exciting future

The effective process of finding physical evidence from stratigraphic sediment will widen the scope of archeological investigations and improve on previous studies that rendered far fewer insights. With the need for bones or teeth to extract DNA becoming secondary, the future looks exciting in the field of archaeology.