Washington: The skeletal remains of an individual that lived 40,000-30,000 years ago were found in northern Italy and are believed to be that of a human/Neanderthal hybrid. If further analysis proves the study correct, the remains belong to the first known such hybrid, providing direct evidence that humans and Neanderthals interbred.

The present study focuses on the individual's jaw - unearthed at a rock-shelter called Riparo di Mezzena in the Monti Lessini region of Italy. Both Neanderthals and modern humans inhabited Europe at the time.

Co-author Silvana Condemi , an anthropologist and CNRS research director at the University of Ai-Marseille, told Discovery News that from the morphology of the lower jaw, the face of the individual may have looked somehow intermediate between classic Neanderthals, who had a rather receding lower jaw (no chin), and the modern humans, who have a projecting lower jaw with a strongly developed chin.

She and her colleagues studied the remains via DNA analysis and 3D imaging and compared the results with the same features from Homo sapiens. The genetic analysis showed that the individual's mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is Neanderthal and since this DNA is transmitted from a mother to her child, they conclude that it must have been a female Neanderthal who mated with a male Homo sapiens.

Condemi and her colleagues wrote that it supports the theory of a slow process of replacement of Neanderthals by the invading modern humans. The research team also hinted that the modern humans may have raped female Neanderthals. The paper has been published in PLoS ONE.


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