The social structure of the Neanderthal people is not well understood. Recent research suggests that, at least in Siberia, Neanderthals lived in groups of 10 to 20 individuals—like today’s mountain gorillas, an endangered species.
The study was carried out by an international team of scientists, including Swedish geneticist Svante Paabo, who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine this month. His work maps our genetic relationships to the Neanderthals.
Unlike many archaeological sites where fossils have been built up over a long period of time, genetic studies of 11 Neanderthals found in Sakirskaya Cave – in the Altai Mountains near the Russian border with Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China – showed that many of them were close relatives. They all lived at the same time.
“Zagirskaya Cave is basically a moment of life and death in this cave 54,000 years ago,” said Richard G. Roberts said. An interview.
“Most archaeological sites, things are slowly piled up and chewed up by hyenas or something like that,” he said. “You don’t get sites that are really full of substance. It was full of bones, Neanderthal bones, animal bones, artifacts. It was a moment, literally frozen in time.
Scientists used DNA extracted from fossils found in Sakirskaya Cave and two other Neanderthals found in a nearby cave to map the relationships between the individuals and look for clues about how they lived.
Sakirskaya Cave is located high on a ridge, overlooking a floodplain where bison and other animals once grazed, Roberts said. Researchers found stone tools and bison bones buried with the remains in the cave.
Genetic data obtained from the teeth and bone fragments showed that the individuals included a father and his daughter, a pair of second cousins, perhaps an aunt or uncle, a niece or nephew, Roberts said. Father’s Mitochondrial DNA — the set of genes passed from mothers to their children — was similar to the other two men in the cave, he said, suggesting they may have had a common maternal ancestor.
“They’re so closely related, it’s really like a clan living in this cave,” he said. “The idea that they could continue generation after generation is impossible. I think they all died very close in time. Maybe it was a terrible storm. They are in Siberia.
The study also revealed that the genetic diversity of Y chromosomes (passed only through the male line) is much lower than that of the mitochondrial DNA of individuals. Men. That pattern is also seen in many human societies, where women leave their husbands’ families before they get married and have children.
Previous work by Swedish geneticist Papo has shown that Neanderthals mixed with prehistoric humans after migrating out of Africa, and that remnants of that interaction live on in the genomes of many present-day people. During the epidemic, he found that a genetic risk factor was involved Severe cases of Covid-19 It spread from Neanderthals, carried by half the population of South Asia and 1 in 6 people in Europe.
The sample size of the latest study was small and may not be representative of the social life of the entire Neanderthal population, the authors say.
“If we could reproduce [the study] In some other places, we might understand how Neanderthals lived their lives and maybe have some clues as to why they went extinct, but we don’t,” said Roberts, the Australian scholar. “We are very similar. So why are we the only ones left on this planet?“