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Concept: Archaic Homo sapiens


The production of purposely made painted or engraved designs on cave walls-a means of recording and transmitting symbolic codes in a durable manner-is recognized as a major cognitive step in human evolution. Considered exclusive to modern humans, this behavior has been used to argue in favor of significant cognitive differences between our direct ancestors and contemporary archaic hominins, including the Neanderthals. Here we present the first known example of an abstract pattern engraved by Neanderthals, from Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar. It consists of a deeply impressed cross-hatching carved into the bedrock of the cave that has remained covered by an undisturbed archaeological level containing Mousterian artifacts made by Neanderthals and is older than 39 cal kyr BP. Geochemical analysis of the epigenetic coating over the engravings and experimental replication show that the engraving was made before accumulation of the archaeological layers, and that most of the lines composing the design were made by repeatedly and carefully passing a pointed lithic tool into the grooves, excluding the possibility of an unintentional or utilitarian origin (e.g., food or fur processing). This discovery demonstrates the capacity of the Neanderthals for abstract thought and expression through the use of geometric forms.

Concepts: Human, Thought, Neanderthal, Human evolution, Archaic Homo sapiens, Gibraltar, Gorham's Cave, Engraving


Hominins with morphology similar to present-day humans appear in the fossil record across Eurasia between 40,000 and 50,000 y ago. The genetic relationships between these early modern humans and present-day human populations have not been established. We have extracted DNA from a 40,000-y-old anatomically modern human from Tianyuan Cave outside Beijing, China. Using a highly scalable hybridization enrichment strategy, we determined the DNA sequences of the mitochondrial genome, the entire nonrepetitive portion of chromosome 21 (∼30 Mbp), and over 3,000 polymorphic sites across the nuclear genome of this individual. The nuclear DNA sequences determined from this early modern human reveal that the Tianyuan individual derived from a population that was ancestral to many present-day Asians and Native Americans but postdated the divergence of Asians from Europeans. They also show that this individual carried proportions of DNA variants derived from archaic humans similar to present-day people in mainland Asia.

Concepts: DNA, Human, Mitochondrial DNA, Human evolution, Archaic Homo sapiens, Humans, Anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens idaltu


Little is known about the timing of modern human emergence and occupation in Eastern Eurasia. However a rapid migration out of Africa into Southeast Asia by at least 60 ka is supported by archaeological, paleogenetic and paleoanthropological data. Recent discoveries in Laos, a modern human cranium (TPL1) from Tam Pa Ling’s cave, provided the first evidence for the presence of early modern humans in mainland Southeast Asia by 63-46 ka. In the current study, a complete human mandible representing a second individual, TPL 2, is described using discrete traits and geometric morphometrics with an emphasis on determining its population affinity. The TPL2 mandible has a chin and other discrete traits consistent with early modern humans, but it retains a robust lateral corpus and internal corporal morphology typical of archaic humans across the Old World. The mosaic morphology of TPL2 and the fully modern human morphology of TPL1 suggest that a large range of morphological variation was present in early modern human populations residing in the eastern Eurasia by MIS 3.

Concepts: Human, Southeast Asia, World population, Human evolution, Archaic Homo sapiens, Humans, Anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens idaltu


Anthropological and genetic data agree in indicating the African continent as the main place of origin for anatomically modern humans. However, it is unclear whether early modern humans left Africa through a single, major process, dispersing simultaneously over Asia and Europe, or in two main waves, first through the Arab Peninsula into southern Asia and Oceania, and later through a northern route crossing the Levant.

Concepts: Human, Africa, Asia, Human evolution, Prehistory, Archaic Homo sapiens, Humans, Homo sapiens idaltu


Fossil evidence points to an African origin of Homo sapiens from a group called either H. heidelbergensis or H. rhodesiensis. However, the exact place and time of emergence of H. sapiens remain obscure because the fossil record is scarce and the chronological age of many key specimens remains uncertain. In particular, it is unclear whether the present day ‘modern’ morphology rapidly emerged approximately 200 thousand years ago (ka) among earlier representatives of H. sapiens or evolved gradually over the last 400 thousand years. Here we report newly discovered human fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, and interpret the affinities of the hominins from this site with other archaic and recent human groups. We identified a mosaic of features including facial, mandibular and dental morphology that aligns the Jebel Irhoud material with early or recent anatomically modern humans and more primitive neurocranial and endocranial morphology. In combination with an age of 315 ± 34 thousand years (as determined by thermoluminescence dating), this evidence makes Jebel Irhoud the oldest and richest African Middle Stone Age hominin site that documents early stages of the H. sapiens clade in which key features of modern morphology were established. Furthermore, it shows that the evolutionary processes behind the emergence of H. sapiens involved the whole African continent.

Concepts: Human, Evolution, Africa, Human evolution, Prehistory, Archaic Homo sapiens, Humans, Homo sapiens idaltu


Every human suffers through life a number of papillomaviruses (PVs) infections, most of them asymptomatic. A notable exception are persistent infections by Human papillomavirus 16 (HPV16), the most oncogenic infectious agent for humans and responsible for most infection-driven anogenital cancers. Oncogenic potential is not homogeneous among HPV16 lineages, and genetic variation within HPV16 exhibits some geographic structure. However, an in-depth analysis of the HPV16 evolutionary history was still wanting. We have analyzed extant HPV16 diversity and compared the evolutionary and phylogeographical patterns of humans and of HPV16. We show that codivergence with modern humans explains at most 30% of the present viral geographical distribution. The most explanatory scenario suggests that ancestral HPV16 already infected ancestral human populations and that viral lineages co-diverged with the hosts in parallel with the split between archaic Neanderthal-Denisovans and ancestral modern human populations, generating the ancestral HPV16A and HPV16BCD viral lineages, respectively. We propose that after out-of-Africa migration of modern human ancestors, sexual transmission between human populations introduced HPV16A into modern human ancestor populations. We hypothesize that differential coevolution of HPV16 lineages with different but closely related ancestral human populations and subsequent host-switch events in parallel with introgression of archaic alleles into the genomes of modern human ancestors may be largely responsible for the present-day differential prevalence and association with cancers for HPV16 variants.

Concepts: Human, Natural selection, Evolution, Hominidae, Neanderthal, World population, Human evolution, Archaic Homo sapiens


DNA sequencing has revolutionised our understanding of archaic humans during the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic. Unfortunately, while many Palaeolithic sites contain large numbers of bones, the majority of these lack the diagnostic features necessary for traditional morphological identification. As a result the recovery of Pleistocene-age human remains is extremely rare. To circumvent this problem we have applied a method of collagen fingerprinting to more than 2000 fragmented bones from the site of Denisova Cave, Russia, in order to facilitate the discovery of human remains. As a result of our analysis a single hominin bone (Denisova 11) was identified, supported through in-depth peptide sequencing analysis, and found to carry mitochondrial DNA of the Neandertal type. Subsequent radiocarbon dating revealed the bone to be >50,000 years old. Here we demonstrate the huge potential collagen fingerprinting has for identifying hominin remains in highly fragmentary archaeological assemblages, improving the resources available for wider studies into human evolution.

Concepts: DNA, Human, Molecular biology, Mitochondrial DNA, Identification, Neanderthal, Human evolution, Archaic Homo sapiens


Anatomically modern humans interbred with Neanderthals and with a related archaic population known as Denisovans. Genomes of several Neanderthals and one Denisovan have been sequenced, and these reference genomes have been used to detect introgressed genetic material in present-day human genomes. Segments of introgression also can be detected without use of reference genomes, and doing so can be advantageous for finding introgressed segments that are less closely related to the sequenced archaic genomes. We apply a new reference-free method for detecting archaic introgression to 5,639 whole-genome sequences from Eurasia and Oceania. We find Denisovan ancestry in populations from East and South Asia and Papuans. Denisovan ancestry comprises two components with differing similarity to the sequenced Altai Denisovan individual. This indicates that at least two distinct instances of Denisovan admixture into modern humans occurred, involving Denisovan populations that had different levels of relatedness to the sequenced Altai Denisovan. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

Concepts: Human, Human genome, Asia, World population, Human evolution, Archaic Homo sapiens, Humans, Anatomically modern humans


The traditional “out of Africa” model, which posits a dispersal of modern Homo sapiens across Eurasia as a single wave at ~60,000 years ago and the subsequent replacement of all indigenous populations, is in need of revision. Recent discoveries from archaeology, hominin paleontology, geochronology, genetics, and paleoenvironmental studies have contributed to a better understanding of the Late Pleistocene record in Asia. Important findings highlighted here include growing evidence for multiple dispersals predating 60,000 years ago in regions such as southern and eastern Asia. Modern humans moving into Asia met Neandertals, Denisovans, mid-Pleistocene Homo, and possibly H. floresiensis, with some degree of interbreeding occurring. These early human dispersals, which left at least some genetic traces in modern populations, indicate that later replacements were not wholesale.

Concepts: Human, Africa, Hominidae, Neanderthal, Human evolution, Pleistocene, Prehistory, Archaic Homo sapiens


Southern Africa is consistently placed as a potential region for the evolution of Homo sapiens We present genome sequences, up to 13x coverage, from seven ancient individuals from KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Three Stone Age hunter-gatherers (about 2000 years old) were genetically similar to current-day southern San groups, while four Iron Age farmers (300 to 500 years old) were genetically similar to present-day Bantu-speakers. We estimate that all modern-day Khoe-San groups have been influenced by 9 to 30% genetic admixture from East Africans/Eurasians. Using traditional and new approaches, we estimate the first modern human population divergence time to between 350,000 and 260,000 years ago. This estimate increases the deepest divergence among modern humans, coinciding with anatomical developments of archaic humans into modern humans as represented in the local fossil record.

Concepts: Human, Africa, Hominidae, World population, Human evolution, Prehistory, Archaic Homo sapiens, Humans