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Molecular analysis of Neanderthal DNA from the northern Caucasus

Abstract

The expansion of premodern humans into western and eastern Europe 40,000 years before the present led to the eventual replacement of the Neanderthals by modern humans 28,000 years ago1. Here we report the second mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis of a Neanderthal, and the first such analysis on clearly dated Neanderthal remains. The specimen is from one of the eastern-most Neanderthal populations, recovered from Mezmaiskaya Cave in the northern Caucasus2. Radiocarbon dating estimated the specimen to be 29,000 years old and therefore from one of the latest living Neanderthals3. The sequence shows 3.48% divergence from the Feldhofer Neanderthal4. Phylogenetic analysis places the two Neanderthals from the Caucasus and western Germany together in a clade that is distinct from modern humans, suggesting that their mtDNA types have not contributed to the modern human mtDNA pool. Comparison with modern populations provides no evidence for the multiregional hypothesis of modern human evolution.

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Figure 1: The area within which Neanderthal remains have been found (dotted line).
Figure 2: Variable sites in the DNA sequences of the PCR fragments obtained by direct sequencing (Direct 1 and 2) and cloned PCR products derived from the Neanderthal from Mezmaiskaya Cave.
Figure 3: Phylogenetic relationship of the two Neanderthals and modern humans.

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Acknowledgements

We are indebted to L. V. Golovanova for the excavations in Mezmaiskaya Cave that provided materials for analysis. We thank V. P. Ljubin and P. Vanezis for encouragement and support; B. L. Cohen for numerous discussions; J. L. Harley, O. I. Ovtchinnikova, E. B. Druzina and J. Wakefield for technical help and assistance; R. Page for help with the phylogenetic analysis; and P. Beerli, A. Cooper, M. Cusack, M. Nordborg and M. Ruvolo for useful comments. I.V.O. thanks his host G. Curry. I.V.O. was supported by a Royal Society/NATO Fellowship. We thank the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences and the Swedish Research Council for Natural Sciences for partial financial support.

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Correspondence to William Goodwin.

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Ovchinnikov, I., Götherström, A., Romanova, G. et al. Molecular analysis of Neanderthal DNA from the northern Caucasus. Nature 404, 490–493 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1038/35006625

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