Scientists studying the DNA of Neanderthals say they can find no evidence that this ancient species ever interbred with modern humans.
But our evolutionary cousins may well have been able to speak as well as us, said Prof Svante Paabo from Germany’s Max Planck Institute.
He was speaking in Chicago, US, where he announced the “first draft” of a complete Neanderthal genome.
The genetics information has been gleaned from fossils found in Croatia.
Prof Svante Paabo confirmed that Neanderthals shared the FOXP2 gene associated with speech and language in modern humans.
A total of three billion “letters”, covering 60% of the Neanderthal genome, have been sequenced by scientists from Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and 454 Life Sciences Corporation, in Branford, Connecticut.
The majority of the sequence comes from bones from Vindija Cave in Croatia. … Neanderthals lived in Europe and parts of Asia until they became extinct about 30,000 years ago. …
Since Neanderthals lived side by side with modern humans in Europe for many thousands of years, it has been speculated that we may have inherited some Neanderthal DNA in our genome today, thanks to interbreeding.
But Professor Paabo’s team have found no evidence for this. … Overall, it seems that Neanderthals have contributed, at most, a “very limited” fraction of the variation found in contemporary human populations, said Prof Paabo. …
Paabo said the team did not expect to find any clues which might help solve the riddle of the Neanderthals’ demise.
“I don’t think they became extinct due to something in their genome,” he said.
“It was clearly something in their interaction with the environment or with modern humans that caused them to be extinct.
“That will not be something you can see from their DNA sequence.”