A complete skeleton embedded in an Italian cave is that of an early Neanderthal.

Credit: Soprintendenza Archeologia Della Puglia/Museo Archeologico Di Altamura

Discovered in 1993 near Altamura in southern Italy, the remains (pictured) are coated in a thick layer of calcite, and the bones have been examined only while embedded. A team led by Giorgio Manzi at the Sapienza University of Rome got permission to cut out a small sample of a shoulder bone for laboratory study. Uranium–thorium dating of calcite layers surrounding the bone suggests that the remains are between 128,000 and 187,000 years old. Mitochondrial DNA sequences from the bone matched those of other Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis).

The skeleton is the oldest Neanderthal from which DNA has been collected, the researchers say, making it a good candidate for further in-depth genetic analysis.

J. Hum. Evol. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2015.02.007 (2015)