EarthSky.org // Human World, Science Wire Release Date: Oct 22, 2013

The search for a common ancestor that connects modern humans with the Neanderthals who lived in Europe thousands of years ago isn’t over yet, researchers say.

Image credit:  Boris Doesborg/Flickr

A reconstruction of the homme de Spy, the name given to the skeleton of a Neanderthal man found in 1886 in a cave in Spy (Namur, Belgium), was made in January 2012 by the paleo artists Adrie & Alfons Kennis. Image credit: Boris Doesborg/Flickr

A new study using quantitative methods focused on the shape of dental fossils finds that none of the usual suspects fits the expected profile of an ancestor of both Neanderthals and modern humans.

The findings also suggest that the lines that led to Neanderthals and modern humans diverged nearly 1 million years ago, much earlier than studies based on molecular evidence have suggested.

A new study of fossils of approximately 1,200 molars and premolars from 13 species or types of hominins—humans and human relatives and ancestors—found none of the hominins usually proposed as a common ancestor is a satisfactory match. (Credit: Aida Gómez-Robles)

A new study of fossils of approximately 1,200 molars and premolars from 13 species or types of hominins—humans and human relatives and ancestors—found none of the hominins usually proposed as a common ancestor is a satisfactory match. (Credit: Aida Gómez-Robles)

The findings also suggest that the lines that led to Neanderthals and modern humans diverged nearly 1 million years ago, much earlier than studies based on molecular evidence have suggested.

“Our results call attention to the strong discrepancies between molecular and paleontological estimates of the divergence time between Neanderthals and modern humans,” says Aida Gómez-Robles, postdoctoral scientist at the Center for the Advanced Study of Hominid Paleobiology at George Washington University.

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