The first portrait of a Neanderthal family, 54,000 years ago

The first portrait of a Neanderthal family, 54,000 years ago

Research by the Max Planck Institute and the University of Bologna reconstructs a human image of Neanderthals, in which an important role of women emerges

A teenage girl with her father, an aunt and a young cousin: it is the first portrait of a Neanderthal family, who lived 54,000 years ago in southern Siberia.

In the caves of Chagyrskaya and Okladnikov, in Russia, the remains of a community of the Neanderthal species, characterized by kinship ties, have been found. Published in the journal Nature, this fascinating discovery is by scientists from the Max Planck Institute and the University of Bologna, who led an expedition to Russian archaeological sites to learn more about prehistoric genetics. The team, led by Laurits Skov and Svante Paabo, the Nobel Prize for Medicine, examined excavations in southern Siberia, a region considered very promising for ancient DNA research.

Neanderthals belong to the great tribe of homo and are some of our closest relatives, with whom we have lived side by side for tens of thousands of years. However, we did not know much about their social organizations until now.

Okladnikov’s cave

The researchers recovered the DNA of 13 individuals, seven men and six women, including eight adults and five children, and discovered the kinship between some of them. And, by comparing the genetic diversity on the Y chromosome, the researchers hypothesized that Neanderthal communities were primarily related to female migration.

“These surprising results on the evolution of migration – comments Sahra Talamo, the only Italian firm – must make us reflect on the role of women from the beginning of our fascinating evolutionary history: a woman who has always been gifted with the ability to innovate, find resources, solutions, and networking “.

Svante Paabo, Nobel prize

“This discovery – says Laurits Skov – is very exciting, because it highlights the fact that these individuals were probably associated with the same social community. For the first time we can use genetics to study the social organization of a Neanderthal community ”.

“Our work – concludes Benjamin Peter, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, one of the coordinators of the study – provides a concrete picture of how a Neanderthal community could have been. All these elements allow us to reconstruct a much more human image of Neanderthals. “