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Feb 18, 2016 10:21 AM EST

Neanderthals Began Interbreeding With Humans Much Earlier Than Previously Thought

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New research suggests Homo sapiens and Neanderthals interbred 100,000 years ago, pushing the generally held timeline of when that occurred back by about 50,000 years.

Published in the journal Nature, the new study details DNA evidence that pinpoints the start of Neanderthal-human relations tens of thousands of years earlier that past data suggested.

"We knew from Neanderthal DNA found in the genomes of humans outside Africa that Neanderthals and humans have interbred," study co-lead author Sergi Castellano, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, said in a press release. "This interbreeding is estimated to have happened less than 65,000 years ago, around the time that modern human populations spread across Eurasia from Africa. We now find evidence for a modern human contribution to the Neanderthal genome. This is likely the result of much earlier interbreeding."

According to The Washington Post, the perception of Neanderthals based on scientific discovery continues to change, as the new research indicates they lived alongside humans even longer than previously thought.

"It seems clear that there was a fair amount of interbreeding," study co-lead author Adam Siepel, of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, told The Post. "We now know of at least four events between different groups of archaic hominins, and we're probably going to keep discovering more.

"When you look at a modern European genome, you have to wonder whether mutations were passed down through early humans, or whether they were brought in by Neanderthals. Now we have to do the same thing with Neanderthal genomes, as well."

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