DNA tests show humans not Neanderthals' descendants

December 17, 1997 - CNN
Web posted at: 11:11 p.m. EST (0411 GMT)

From Correspondent Siobhan Darrow

LONDON (CNN) -- For more than a century, scientists believed that Neanderthal man, a hulking ape-like creature who lived in Europe and the Middle East some 300,000 years ago, was the direct ancestor of human beings.

But new DNA tests may have finally proven that, while we may be distantly related to the Neanderthals, they were not our direct forebearers.

Scientists extracted and cloned DNA from the bones of a Neanderthal specimen. The results showed that human DNA and Neanderthal DNA had too many differences to be directly related.

Instead, the results bolster the hypothesis that our ancestors, the first homo sapiens, emigrated from Africa about 100,000 years ago and lived side-by-side with the Neanderthals.

More graceful and agile, homo sapiens survived. But the Neanderthals, despite their abilities to make tools and weapons, couldn't adapt the to harsh and changing climate of the times and died out.

"When you look at the events in human evolution, we can see that actually there were a lot of chance events involved," says paleontologist Christ Stringer. "But for these chances of fate, we might not be here at all today, and it might be Neanderthals still in Europe and not us."

Despite a heavy brow and bulky build, scientists say the Neanderthal doesn't deserve his somewhat brutish reputation.

"We don't think they had art, but we do see some signs of human features such as burial," Stinger says. "They buried their dead, and, in some cases, it actually looks like they put material in the grave."

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