DNA extracted from remains found in a Bulgarian cave of three people who lived roughly 45,000 years ago is revealing surprises about some of the first Homo sapiens populations to venture into Europe, including extensive interbreeding with Neanderthals and genetic links to present-day East Asians.
Scientists said on Wednesday they sequenced the genomes of these three individuals, all males, using DNA obtained from a molar and bone fragments discovered in Bacho Kiro Cave near the town of Dryanovo, as well as one female who lived roughly 35,000 years ago at the same site. Homo sapiens first appeared in Africa approximately 300,000 years ago and later trekked to other parts of the world, sometimes encountering Neanderthals -- close cousins to Homo sapiens -- already inhabiting parts of Eurasia. The three Bacho Kiro Cave males represent the oldest securely dated Homo sapiens individuals from Europe. They had 3% to 3.8% Neanderthal DNA and had Neanderthal ancestors about five to seven generations back in their family histories, evidence of interbreeding, said geneticist Mateja Hajdinjak of the Francis Crick Institute in London, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature.