It seems that the long-extinct Neanderthals and early humans weren't just competing with one another, but had also apparently interbred on more occasions than was previously believed, Science Alert reports citing a new study by an international team of scientists.
During the course of their research, the team has managed to discover “genetic material linked to Neanderthals” in the Altai Mountains, far from the the Croatian population of Neanderthals where a different lineage was identified in the past.
"It's not a single introgression of genetic material from Neanderthals. It's just this spider web of interactions that happen over and over again, where different ancient hominins are interacting with each other, and our paper is adding to this picture", said Omer Gokcumen, a biologist from the State University of New York at Buffalo and one of the authors of the study.
As the media outlet points out, recent archaeological discoveries appear to suggest that rather than simply replacing the now gone species like Neanderthals, humans “actually interbred with them”.
"It seems like the story of human evolution is not so much like a tree with branches that just grow in different directions. It turns out that the branches have all these connections between them," Gokcumen remarked.
The results of the study appear to suggest that the ancestors of the people who populated Western Europe and East Asia intermixed on multiple occasions with “different Neanderthal lineages”.
"The picture in my mind now is we have all these archaic hominin populations in Europe, in Asia, in Siberia, in Africa. For one reason or another, the ancestors of modern humans in Africa start expanding in population, and as they expand their range, they meet with these other hominins and absorb their DNA, if you will", Gokcumen added. "We probably met different Neanderthal populations at different times in our expansion into other parts of the globe."