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It also demonstrates that it is possible to extract DNA from samples stored at room temperature for several years – like those collected previously for dating, understanding site formation processes, or reconstructing ancient environments._________________Zadok: I did not have a faith crisis.Maksutov: That's the problem with this supernatural stuff, it doesn't really solve anything. APRIL 27, 2017While there are numerous prehistoric sites in Europe and Asia that contain tools and other human-made artefacts, skeletal remains of ancient humans are scarce.Using tiny amounts of material the researchers recovered and analyzed fragments of mitochondrial DNA – genetic material from the mitochondria, the “energy factories” of the cell – and identified them as belonging to twelve different mammalian families that include extinct species such as the woolly mammoth, the woolly rhinoceros, the cave bear and the cave hyena.The researchers then looked specifically for ancient hominin DNA in the samples.For me, this was the most interesting item of the five listed in that article.Basically, we don't any longer need bones to find that humans were in a given site, or to identify which group of our ancestors those humans (or at least hominids) came from.In fact, just as we were preparing to publish this guest post by Dr. Ella Beaudoin from the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, the remainder of the skeleton of a human ancestor known colloquially as “Little Foot” (belonging to the genus Australopithecus, the same genus as the famed “Lucy” fossil) was finally revealed after 20 years of cleaning and excavation from the its embedding rock. –JMOHuman evolution is an exciting, interdisciplinary science.

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In addition, they found Denisovan DNA in sediments from Denisova Cave in Russia.“We therefore decided to investigate whether hominin DNA may survive in sediments at archaeological sites known to have been occupied by ancient hominins.”To this aim Meyer and his team collaborated with a large network of researchers excavating at seven archaeological sites in Belgium, Croatia, France, Russia and Spain.Overall, they collected sediment samples covering a time span from 14,000 to over 550,000 years ago.“From the preliminary results, we suspected that in most of our samples, DNA from other mammals was too abundant to detect small traces of human DNA”, says Viviane Slon, Ph. student at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig and first author of the study.

“We then switched strategies and started targeting specifically DNA fragments of human origin.” Nine samples from four archaeological sites contained enough ancient hominin DNA for further analyses: Eight sediment samples contained Neandertal mitochondrial DNA from either one or multiple individuals, while one sample contained Denisovan DNA.

Maksutov: That's the problem with this supernatural stuff, it doesn't really solve anything.