Scientists Reconstruct Oldest Modern Human Genome From 45,000-Year-Old Skull

The individual discovered in a cave in the Czech Republic is one of the earliest known inhabitants of Eurasia.

The genome of a modern human was deciphered, whose skull was found in the Zlatý Kun (“Golden Horse”) cave in the Czech Republic. It belonged to a woman whose remains were found in the Bohemian Konepruska caves. The presence of longer segments in the genome inherited from Neanderthal ancestors suggested that the remains belong to one of the earliest surviving Eurasians who lived at least 45 thousand years ago.


Until now, only three samples of the genomes of modern humans from Europe and Asia, who lived in a period close to the exit of man from Africa, that is, more than 40 thousand years ago, have been completely deciphered.

They belonged to people whose remains were found on the outskirts of the Siberian village of Ust-Ishim, in the Tianyuan cave in the vicinity of Beijing, as well as in the Pestera cu Oase cave in Romania (partially deciphered).

In the course of settling in Eurasia, humans of the modern type carried in their genome about two to three percent of genes of Neanderthal origin. Apparently, Neanderthal genes were acquired during the mixing of two types of people in the Middle East between 50 and 60 thousand years ago. Modern data indicates that in Europe, homo sapiens and homo neanderthalensis did not collide, separated by three to five thousand years.

Kay Prüfer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, together with colleagues from Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy, and the Czech Republic, analyzed a genome obtained from materials from a female skull. The find itself was made back in 1950 in the Koneprusy caves in the Czech Republic.

This is the reconstructed skull of the modern female individual from the Zlaty Kun cave which was used for the human genome studies. Credit: Marek Jentac
This is the reconstructed skull of the modern female individual from the Zlaty Kun cave which was used for the human genome studies. Credit: Marek Jentac

The analysis showed that the isolated genome contains about three percent of the Neanderthal impurity. This is similar to that of other Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers. At the same time, the researchers found that the Neanderthal segments in the sample are longer than in the famous example from Ust-Ishim.

This led to the conclusion that the individual from the Czech Republic is one of the earliest known inhabitants of Eurasia, belonging to the modern species.

The authors reported that initially the antiquity of the remains was estimated at no less than 30 thousand years, but a series of subsequent studies brought a wide scatter in the dating data, which is explained by the significant contamination of the sample. The most ancient data obtained is 34 thousand years ago, but the authors insist that the age of the skull is even older – at least 45 thousand years ago.

Calculations of summary statistics based on the separation of alleles, in order to get an idea of ​​the genetic relationship of the sample from the Golden Coon with modern and ancient individuals, showed a closer relationship with Asians than with Europeans.

This is typical of other European hunter-gatherers of the Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras, which the authors attributed to the possible origin of modern Europeans from a deeply diverging non-African lineage. Accordingly, scientists attributed the studied genome to human representatives of already divided populations.

The genome of an individual from the Czech Republic contains about 3.2 percent Neanderthal admixture, the highest among six Upper Paleolithic genomic datasets and one Mesolithic Eurasian hunter-gatherer (range 3.0–2.1 percent).

Segmentation of the Neanderthal part of the genome made it possible to obtain a more complete picture of the time of the appearance of this admixture. The researchers selected 100 of the longest Neanderthal segments of a woman’s genome from a Czech cave and compared them with other samples obtained by the same methods from remains found elsewhere.

Lateral view of the skull. Credit: Martin Frouz
Lateral view of the skull. Credit: Martin Frouz

This showed that, on average, the segments are longer in the Golden Coon specimen. The authors proceeded from the position that recombination split the Neanderthal part in the human genome into shorter segments in each generation.

The analysis showed that the last generation of genes from the Neanderthals by the ancestor of an individual from the Golden Coon took place approximately 70–80 generations before he lived, and in the sample from Ust-Ishim – 94–99.

The researchers concluded that most of the Neanderthal genes in modern and ancient people are probably derived from a general mixing with a group of Neanderthals associated with future European Neanderthals and not the Neanderthals found in Altai.

Without revealing significant differences in the distribution of alleles in Neanderthal admixtures, the authors suggested that the woman from the Golden Kun is about the same age as the individual from Ust-Ishim (about 45 thousand years), or several hundred years older than him.

This makes the specimen from the Czech Republic the oldest known European human with a significantly preserved skull. At the same time, it has no genetic continuity with people who lived 40 thousand years ago.

The authors suggested that the likely cause of the gap formed was the mega-eruption of the Phlegrean fields., which happened about 39 thousand years ago, which seriously affected the climate and human populations.


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Sources:

Handwerk, B. (2021, April 07). Some of europe’s Oldest-Known modern humans are distantly related to Native Americans.
O’Neill, M. (2021, April 10). Oldest modern human genome reconstructed using dna from 45,000-year-old skull.
Prüfer, K., Posth, C., Yu, H., Stoessel, A., Spyrou, M., Deviese, T., . . . Krause, J. (2021, April 07). A genome sequence from a modern human skull over 45,000 years old from Zlatý KŮŇ in Czechia.

Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.
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