A unique assemblage of 28 hominin individuals, found in Sima de los Huesos in the Sierra de Atapuerca in Spain, has recently been dated to approximately 430,000 years ago1. An interesting question is how these Middle Pleistocene hominins were related to those who lived in the Late Pleistocene epoch, in particular to Neanderthals in western Eurasia and to Denisovans, a sister group of Neanderthals so far known only from southern Siberia. While the Sima de los Huesos hominins share some derived morphological features with Neanderthals, the mitochondrial genome retrieved from one individual from Sima de los Huesos is more closely related to the mitochondrial DNA of Denisovans than to that of Neanderthals2. However, since the mitochondrial DNA does not reveal the full picture of relationships among populations, we have investigated DNA preservation in several individuals found at Sima de los Huesos. Here we recover nuclear DNA sequences from two specimens, which show that the Sima de los Huesos hominins were related to Neanderthals rather than to Denisovans, indicating that the population divergence between Neanderthals and Denisovans predates 430,000 years ago. A mitochondrial DNA recovered from one of the specimens shares the previously described relationship to Denisovan mitochondrial DNAs, suggesting, among other possibilities, that the mitochondrial DNA gene pool of Neanderthals turned over later in their history.
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European Nucleotide Archive
Sequences generated in this study have been deposited in the European Nucleotide Archive under study accession number PRJEB10597.
We thank B. Höber and A. Weihmann for help with sequencing the libraries, G. Renaud for processing the raw sequence data, S. Castellano and U. Stenzel for discussions and comments on the manuscript. Genetics work was funded by the Max Planck Society and its Presidential Innovation Fund. Field work at the Sierra de Atapuerca sites was funded by the Junta de Castilla y Leon, the Fundacion Atapuerca, the Spanish Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovacion (project CGL2009-12703-C03) and the Spanish Ministerio de Economia y Competitividad (project CGL2012-38434-C03).
Extended data figures
Extended data tables
This file contains Supplementary Text, Supplementary Figures 1-2, Supplementary Tables 1-4 and additional references.
About this article
Science Advances (2019)