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400,000-year-old leg bone gives up oldest human DNA

oldest dna sampleThe discovery of DNA in a 400,000-year-old human thigh bone will open up a new frontier in the study of our ancestors.

That's the verdict cast by human evolution experts on an analysis in Nature journal of the oldest human genetic material ever sequenced.

The femur comes from the famed "Pit of Bones" site in Spain, which gave up the remains of at least 28 ancient people. But the results are perplexing, raising more questions than answers about our increasingly complex family tree.

The early human remains from the cave site near the northern Spanish city of Burgos have been painstakingly excavated and pieced together over the course of more than two decades. It has yielded one of the richest assemblages of human bones from this stage of human evolution, in a time called the Middle Pleistocene.
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We need all the data we can get to build the whole story of human evolution”

Prof Chris Stringer Natural History Museum

To access the pit, scientists must crawl for hundreds of metres through narrow cave tunnels and rope down through the dark. The bodies were probably deposited there deliberately - their causes of death unknown.


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