It appears that Neanderthals never went extinct as It was believed originally. Instead, it appears that Neanderthals used to interbreed with our ancestors. The discovery was made using data from the 1000 Genomes project.
‘Some of the fantastical aspect comes from a lack of clear definition of species in this case. It is always very hard to know if an extinct group constituted a different species or not. My guess is that any time two different human groups lived in the same place at the same time for a while, they probably had some sort of breeding contact,” explained Dr Joshua Schraiber, of Temple University in Philadelphia, co-author of the study.
More common than originally believed
Originally scientists believed that interbreeding was something that happened rarely. That is because current human genomes only had about 2% Neanderthal on average. However, other studies revealed that the Neanderthal origins are 12 to 30 percent higher in modern East Asians (compared to persons from Europe).
“There’s been a lot of debate as to why East Asians seem to have a bit more Neanderthal ancestry than Europeans. There’ve been two competing ideas. One is that East Asians happen to interbreed more with Neanderthals. The other is that, of the multiple ancestral populations of Europeans, one had very little Neanderthal ancestry, diluting the [overall] Neanderthal contribution,” said senior study author Joshua Schraiber, a population geneticist at Temple University in Philadelphia.
In order to understand our own genes, scientists had to use computer simulations to recreate DNA models. It appears that the model which best explained our Neanderthal origins, was the one which has multiple interbreeding episodes between modern humans and Neanderthal. These began in Middle East and continued in Europe and East Asia.