A high-quality genome sequence obtained from a female Neanderthal toe bone reveals that the individual’s parents were close relatives and that such inbreeding was prevalent among her recent ancestors, according to a paper published today (December 18) in Nature. But the sequence also reveals that interbreeding occurred between Neanderthals and other hominin groups, including early modern humans.
“Did humans evolve like a constantly branching tree? A lot of people think so,” said Milford Wolpoff, a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in the study. “But there’s also been this thread of thought, by some people like me, that humans evolved more like a network, where there are different populations and they split and sometimes they come back together and they mate.” The new toe bone sequence data, he said, is “really important because it’s giving us good evidence that there’s been constant interbreeding between different human groups all through prehistory.”