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Neanderthals and modern humans split from their common ancestor at least 800,000 years ago, more than twice as long ago as was previously thought.
Most DNA-based estimates suggest that this took place between 300 and 500,000 years ago.
Researchers - University - College - London - Rates
Researchers from University College London analysed dental evolutionary rates across different hominin species, focusing on early Neanderthals.
This revealed that that the teeth of hominins from Sima de los Huesos om Spain - ancestors of the Neanderthals - diverged from the modern human lineage earlier than previously assumed.
Sima - Huesos - Site - Atapuerca - Mountains
Sima de los Huesos is a cave site in Atapuerca Mountains where archaeologists have recovered fossils of almost 30 people.
Previous studies date the site to around 430,000 years ago in the Middle Pleistocene.
Collections - Remains - Date
This makes it one of the oldest and largest collections of human remains discovered to date.
Dr Aida Gomez-Robles, of UCL's anthropology department, said: 'Any divergence time between Neanderthals and modern humans younger than 800,000 years ago would have entailed an unexpectedly fast dental evolution in the early Neanderthals from Sima de los Huesos.
Factors - Results - Selection - Teeth - Hominins
'There are different factors that could potentially explain these results, including strong selection to change the teeth of these hominins or their isolation from other Neanderthals found in mainland Europe.
'However, the simplest explanation is that the divergence between Neanderthals and modern humans was older than 800,000 years. This would make the evolutionary rates of the early Neanderthals from Sima de los Huesos roughly comparable to those found in other species.'
Modern - Humans - Share - Ancestor - Neanderthals
Modern humans share a common ancestor with Neanderthals, the extinct species that were our closest prehistoric relatives.
However, the details on when and how they diverged are a matter of intense debate within the anthropological community.
Ancient - DNA - Analyses
Ancient DNA analyses have generally indicated that both...
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