What may be the oldest fragments of the modern human genome found yet have now been revealed -- DNA from the 7,000-year-old bones of two cavemen unearthed in Spain, researchers say. These findings suggest the cavemen there were not the ancestors of the people found in the region today.
The skeletons of two young adult males were discovered by chance in 2006 by cave explorers in a cavern high in the Cantabrian mountain range, whose main entrance is found at 4,920 feet (1,500 meters) altitude. Winters there are notably cold, which helped preserve the DNA in the bones. These bones date back to the Mesolithic period, before agriculture spread to the Iberian Peninsula with Neolithic settlers from the Middle East. These cavemen were hunter-gatherers, judging by the ornament that one was found with of red-deer canines embroidered onto a cloth.
Scientists have recently sequenced the genomes of our closest extinct relatives, the Neanderthals and the Denisovans. When it came to our lineage, the oldest modern human genomes recovered yet came from Ötzi the Iceman, a 5,300-year-old mummy found in the Alps in 1991. Researchers have salvaged DNA from even older human cells, but this comes from the mitochondria that generate energy for our bodies, and not from the nucleus where our chromosomes are housed.