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New research discovers Sima de los Huesos in Spain is home to oldest human DNA

Prior to the 2013 leg bone, this cranium discovered at Sima de los Huesos was one of the site’s most important early human remains. (Credit: José-Manuel Benito)

Prior to the 2013 leg bone, this cranium discovered at Sima de los Huesos was one of the site’s most important early human remains. (Credit: José-Manuel Benito)

In Spain’s Atapuerca Mountains, the Sima de los Huesos – the Pit of Bones – archaeological site has been a treasure trove of data on early human ancestors for years. On December 4, 2013, a study by Matthias Meyer and team from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology was published online in Nature, detailing a recent project to extract and replicate the DNA of an ancient leg bone from the site. The skeletons from the site look as though they belong to Neanderthals, and scientists have previously classified them as homo heidelbergensis, possibly a forerunner to modern humans. The results of the DNA analysis were surprising: rather than the bone belonging to a Neanderthal, as expected, the DNA more closely resembled a Denisovian, another early human type previously thought to have only lived in Asia. Read more