Key Facts about Neanderthals

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Neanderthals who lived 50,000 years ago were infected with three viruses that still affect modern humans today, researchers have discovered recently.

About Neanderthals:

  • They were an extinct relative of modern humans once found across Europe, extending into Central and Southwest Asia.
  • Species: Homo neanderthalensis
  • They are our closest extinct human relative.
    • Current evidence from both fossils and DNA suggests that Neanderthal and modern human lineages separated at least 500,000 years ago.
  • The last populations of Neanderthals are thought to have died out roughly 40,000 yearsago, several thousand years or so after a wave of modern humans migrated deeper into Europe.
  • Although they are long extinct, their genes are still present in modern human DNA
  • Features:
    • Some defining features of their skulls include the large middle part of the face, angled cheek bones, and a huge nose for humidifying and warming cold, dry air. 
    • Their bodies were shorterand stockier than modern humans, another adaptation to living in cold environments.
    • But their brains were just as large as modern humans and often larger-proportional to their brawnier bodies.
    • Their bones reveal that they were extremely muscular and strong, but led hard lives, suffering frequent injuries.
    • Unlike modern humans, Neanderthals didn't have much of a chin.
    • Neanderthals made and used a diverse set of sophisticated tools, controlled fire, lived in shelters, made and wore clothing, were skilled hunters of large animals, ate plant foods, and occasionally made symbolic or ornamental objects
    • There is evidence that Neanderthals deliberately buried their dead and occasionally even marked their graves with offerings, such as flowers.

No other primates, and no earlier human species, had ever practiced this sophisticated and symbolic behavior.

Q1: What is a Virus?

A virus is an infectious microbe consisting of a segment of nucleic acid (either DNA or RNA) surrounded by a protein coat. A virus cannot replicate alone; instead, it must infect cells and use components of the host cell to make copies of itself. Often, a virus ends up killing the host cell in the process, causing damage to the host organism. Well-known examples of viruses causing human disease include AIDS, COVID-19, measles and smallpox.

Source: 50,000-year-old Neanderthal bones harbor oldest-known human viruses