Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2019 07 15;116(31):15610-15615. Epub 2019 Jul 15.
Centre for Human Evolution Research, Department of Earth Sciences, The Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, United Kingdom
The Forbes' Quarry and Devil's Tower partial crania from Gibraltar are among the first Neanderthal remains ever found. Here, we show that small amounts of ancient DNA are preserved in the petrous bones of the 2 individuals despite unfavorable climatic conditions. However, the endogenous Neanderthal DNA is present among an overwhelming excess of recent human DNA. Using improved DNA library construction methods that enrich for DNA fragments carrying deaminated cytosine residues, we were able to sequence 70 and 0.4 megabase pairs (Mbp) nuclear DNA of the Forbes' Quarry and Devil's Tower specimens, respectively, as well as large parts of the mitochondrial genome of the Forbes' Quarry individual. We confirm that the Forbes' Quarry individual was a female and the Devil's Tower individual a male. We also show that the Forbes' Quarry individual is genetically more similar to the ∼120,000-y-old Neanderthals from Scladina Cave in Belgium (Scladina I-4A) and Hohlenstein-Stadel Cave in Germany, as well as to a ∼60,000- to 70,000-y-old Neanderthal from Russia (Mezmaiskaya 1), than to a ∼49,000-y-old Neanderthal from El Sidrón (El Sidrón 1253) in northern Spain and other younger Neanderthals from Europe and western Asia. This suggests that the Forbes' Quarry fossil predates the latter Neanderthals. The preservation of archaic human DNA in the warm coastal climate of Gibraltar, close to the shores of Africa, raises hopes for the future recovery of archaic human DNA from regions in which climatic conditions are less than optimal for DNA preservation.