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It's Just Really, Really Old

Researchers have isolated DNA from a Neanderthal skeleton dating back some 130,000 to 170,000 years, as they report in the Journal of Human Evolution.

The bones were discovered in cave in southern Italy in 1993, embedded into calcite concretions and covered with coralloid formations. Still, observational analyses indicated that they were from Homo neanderthalensis, though one with some morphological differences, such as larger brow ridges.

Based on bone samples recently collected from the skeleton, researchers led by the Sapienza University of Rome's Giorgio Manzi estimated it to be between 130,000 and 172,000 years old. Additionally, by examining mitochondrial DNA from the bone samples, they found that this individual belonged to a common Neanderthal haplotype.

This, LiveScience notes, is then the oldest Neanderthal from whom DNA has been extracted. While the DNA it contains is highly degraded, co-author David Caramelli from the University of Florence says that next-generation sequencing analysis may be able to tackle this ancient Neanderthal's genome.

"We have a nearly complete human fossil skeleton to describe and study in detail. It is a dream," co-author Fabio Di Vincenzo from Sapienza adds. "His morphology offers a rare glimpse on the earliest phase of the evolutionary history of Neanderthals and on one of the most crucial events in human evolution. He can help us better understand when — and, in particular, how — Neanderthals evolved."