When Homo sapiens spread from Africa to the Middle East about 60,000 years ago, Neanderthals already occupied that region. Did the two species ever meet? Svante Pääbo at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany sought answers from DNA in ancient bones. Neanderthal DNA is so close to that of H. sapiens, that one difficulty in sequencing was the possibility of contamination with modern people’s DNA. After limited success in the late 1990s, the Neanderthal Genome Project was launched in 2006, achieving an historic milestone in 2010 by publishing a draft genome sequence from 40,000-year-old Neanderthal samples. The data suggested some degree of interbreeding between the two species.
Did you know? Some modern humans are part Neanderthal. Research indicates that non-Africans living today have from 1 to 4 percent Neanderthal DNA in their genomes.