Scientists were able to isolate the oldest human DNA yet, they announced today, but the 400,000-year-old genome sequence actually prompted more questions than it answered.
The DNA came from a femur found in Spain's "pit of bones." Until now, the oldest human DNA sequence came from a bone that was about 100,000 years old. The New York Times explains that scientists assumed the bone was from a Neanderthal ancestor, but the DNA didn't match them. It did match an ancient human species called the Denisovans, believed to have lived in Siberia.
Spain's a long way from Siberia.
What happened? We're still not sure, but Alan Cooper, director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, gave PBS NewsHour this theory: "we're complete mongrels ... Everybody was bonking everybody else."
Speaking of Siberia, scientists were also surprised a few weeks ago when they examined the DNA of some much younger bones: a 24,000-year-old skeleton found in Siberia turned out to match both Western European and Native American lineages. Before, it was assumed that Europeans hadn't made it that far into Asia, and also that Native Americans were all descended from East Asian populations.
So our origins are more mysterious than ever, except for one indisputable fact: we are not the product of apes and pigs mating, a theory to which the Daily Mail decided to give some internet ink last week.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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