For nearly a century, anthropologists have been debating the relationship of Neanderthals to modern humans. Central to that debate has been whether Neanderthals contributed directly or indirectly to early human ancestry.
In the latest study Washington University in St. Louis anthropology Professor Erik Trinkaus examined the earliest modern humans in Europe -- including specimens in Romania, the Czech Republic and France -- and found they showed obvious Neanderthal ancestry.
"When you look at all of the well-dated and diagnostic early modern European fossils, there is a persistent presence of anatomical features that were present among the Neanderthals but absent from the earlier African modern humans," Trinkaus said. "Early modern Europeans reflect both their predominant African early modern human ancestry and a substantial degree of admixture between those early modern humans and the indigenous Neanderthals."
Trinkaus' analysis argues the Neanderthals were absorbed into modern human groups and that the behavioral differences between the groups were small; they saw each other as social equals.
The study is reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.