Thursday, March 25, 2010

Gene research reveals fourth human species

By Clive Cookson in London
Published: March 24 2010 18:45 | Last updated: March 24 2010 18:45
A fourth type of hominid, besides Neanderthals, modern humans and the tiny “hobbit”, was living as recently as 40,000 years ago, according to research published in the journal Nature.

The discovery by Svante Pääbo and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, is based on DNA sequences from a finger bone fragment discovered in a Siberian cave.

It further enriches the scientific picture of human life in the recent geological past. “Forty thousand years ago the planet was more crowded than we thought,” said Terry Brown, an expert in ancient DNA at Manchester University.  Until recently scientists believed there were just two members of the genus Homo alive at the time: Neanderthals whose ancestors left Africa 400,000 years ago, and modern humans, who left about 50,000 years ago. The picture changed in 2003 when archaeologists found remains of a third species, the tiny “hobbit”, which had survived on the Indonesian island of Flores until 14,000 years ago.

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