(Although all three groups interbred at low levels after their evolutionary paths diverged—and such interbreeding may have been the source of the Denisovan mtDNA in the first Sima fossil whose DNA was sequenced.) Indeed, Meyer suggested in his talk that the ancestors of H. sapiens may have diverged from the branch leading to Neandertals and Denisovans as early as 550,000 to 765,000 years ago, although those results depend on different mutation rates in humans and are still unpublished.
That would mean that the ancestors of humans were already wandering down a solitary path apart from the other kinds of archaic humans on the planet 100,000 to 400,000 years earlier than expected. “It resolves one controversy—that they’re in the Neandertal clade,” says paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London. “But it’s not all good news: From my point of view, it pushes back the origin of H. sapiens from the Neandertals and Denisovans.”
The possibility that humans were a distinct group so early shakes up the human family tree, promising to lead to new debate about when and where the branches belong...."
LONDON—In a remarkable technical feat, researchers have sequenced DNA from fossils in Spain that are about 300,000 to 400,000 years old and have found an ancestor—or close relative—of Neandertals. The nuclear DNA, which is the oldest ever sequenced from a member of the human family, may push back the date for the origins of the distinct ancestors of Neandertals and modern humans, according to a presentation here yesterday at the fifth annual meeting of the European Society for the study of human evolution.