First Neanderthal family found; DNA discovered in tiny bone fragments

Scientists have discovered that Neanderthals lived in family groups and women may have traveled to move with their mates.

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Researchers studied DNA from tiny bone fragments found in Russian caves and mapped out the relationships of about a dozen different Neanderthals to come to this conclusion, The Associated Press reported.

The family included a father and a daughter who lived in Siberia more than 50,000 years ago, the AP reported. There was also an adult woman and a boy who were probably related, The New York Times reported.

“When I work on a bone or two, it’s very easy to forget that these are actually people with their own lives and stories,” Bence Viola said, according to the AP. “Figuring out how they’re related to each other really makes them much more human.”

Viola is a co-author of the study and a paleoanthropologist at the University of Toronto who focuses “on the biological and cultural dynamics of the contacts between different hominin groups in the late Pleistocene.”

Viola was part of the team that included Svante Pääbo, a geneticist from Sweden who has been extracting Neanderthal DNA and replicating their brain cells, winning a Nobel Prize for his work this month, The New York Times reported.

“I would not have thought we would be able to detect a father and daughter from bone fragments, or Neanderthal DNA in cave sediments, or any other of the things that are now becoming almost routine,” Pääbo said, according to the newspaper.

Researchers believe the family all died together and possibly starved to death, The New York Times reported. They may have also died after a storm, The Washington Post reported.

Scientists also found 90,000 stone tools and butchered bison bones in the same cave leading experts to believe that the family used the shelter as a seasonal home when they were in the area to hunt bison that migrated to graze on grasslands.

One of the women had DNA that was similar to that found in Croatia, which is 3,000 miles away, instead of being similar to genes in bones that were found in a cave only 65 miles away from where she died, the Times reported.

“Chagyrskaya Cave is basically a moment in time 54,000 years ago when this community lived and died in this cave,” Richard G. Roberts said, according to the Post. “You don’t really get sites that full of material. It was packed full of bones, Neanderthal bones, animal bones, artifacts. It’s a moment, literally frozen in time.”

Roberts is a professor at the University of Wollongong in Australia and a study co-author.

The study was published in the journal Nature.