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He was a Neanderthal, and stark naked apart from a fur cape. He had good posture and pale skin, perhaps reddened slightly with sunburn. Around one of his thick, muscular biceps he wore bracelet of eagle-talons. She was an early modern human, clad in an animal-skin coat with a wolf-fur trim. She had dark skinlong legsand her hair was worn in braids. He cleared his throat, looked her up and down, and — in an absurdly high-pitched, nasal voice — deployed his best chat-up line. She stared back blankly. They had an awkward laugh and, well, we can all guess what happened next.

Of course, it could have been far less like a scene from a steamy romance novel. Perhaps the woman was actually the Neanderthal and the man belonged to our own species. While we will never know what really happened in this encounter — or others like it — what we can be sure of is that such a couple did get together. Around 37, years later, in Februarytwo explorers made an extraordinary discovery in an underground cave system in the southwestern Carpathian mountains, near the Romanian town of Anina. Even getting there was no easy task. First they waded neck-deep in an underground river for m ft.

Resting on the surface among them was a human jawbone, which radiocarbon dating revealed to be from one of the oldest known early modern humans in Europe. The remains are thought to have washed inside the cave naturally and lain undisturbed ever since. At the time, scientists noticed that — while the jawbone was unmistakeably modern in its appearance, it also contained some unusual, Neanderthal-like features. Years later, this hunch was confirmed. They determined that the liaison probably occurred fewer than years before the time he lived. Since then, the evidence that sex between early modern humans and Neanderthals was not a rare event has been mounting up.

Hidden in the genomes of present-day populations, there are tell-tale s that it happened on many separate occasions and across a wide geographical area. To this day, there are people carrying genetic material from at least two different populations of Neanderthals, which one analysis suggests interbred with humans several times in both Europe and Asia.

R ead about the ancient teeth found in Jersey that show s of interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans. And the transfer also happened the other way around. Crucially, though you might think the salacious details of these ancient liaisons have been lost to pre-history, there are still clues as to what they might have been like around today.

InLaura Weyrich — an anthropologist at Pennsylvania State University — discovered the ghostly ature of a microscopic 48,year-old hitchhiker clinging to a prehistoric tooth. She was particularly interested in what Neanderthals were eating and how they interacted with their environment. To find out, she sequenced DNA from the dental plaque on teeth found in three different caves. The site was recently beset by intrigue, when it was revealed that many of these individuals seem to have suffered from congenital abnormalities, such as misshapen kneecaps and vertebrae, and baby teeth which had remained long after childhood.

The group is suspected to have been composed of close relatives, who had accumulated recessive genes after of a long history of inbreeding. The family met an unfortunate end — their bones are etched with tell-tale s that they were cannibalised.

By comparing the Neanderthal version with the modern human version, she was able to estimate that the two had drifted apart aroundyears ago. If Neanderthals and present-day humans had always shared the same oral companions, you would expect this to have happened much, much earlier — at leastyears agowhen the two subspecies took different paths. Weyrich explains that one possible route for the transfer is kissing.

But it could also be something that occurred more regularly. Another way to transfer your oral microbes is by sharing food. And although there is no direct evidence of a Neanderthal preparing a meal for an early modern human, a romantic meal could have been an alternative source of M.

For Weyrich, the discovery is exciting because it suggests that our interactions with other types of humans long ago have shaped the communities of microorganisms that we carry around today. For example, while M. In the future, she envisages using the insights gleaned from ancient dental plaque to reconstruct healthier oral microbiomes for people living in the modern world. Denisovans were a lot more closely related to Neanderthals than present-day humans; the two subspecies may have had ranges that overlapped in Asia for hundreds of thousands of years.

This became particularly apparent inwith the discovery of a bone fragment which belonged to a young girl — nicknamed Denny — who had a Neanderthal mother and Denisovan father. Consequently, it would make sense if the male sex chromosomes of Neanderthals looked similar to those of Denisovans. But when scientists sequenced the DNA from three Neanderthals, who lived 38, years ago, they were surprised to discover that their Y chromosomes had more in common with those of present-day humans. So often, in fact, that as Neanderthal s dwindled towards the end of their existence, their Y chromosomes may have gone extinctand been replaced entirely with our own.

This suggests that a substantial of ancestral human men were having sex with female Neanderthals. Other research has shown that almost exactly the same fate befell Neanderthal mitochondria — cellular machinery that help to turn sugars into useable energy. These are exclusively passed down from mothers to their children, so when early modern human mitochondria were found in Neanderthal remains init hinted that our ancestors were also having sex with male Neanderthals. This time, the interbreeding is likely to have happened betweenandyears agowhen humans were mostly confined to Africa.

A few years ago, Ville Pimenoff was studying the sexually transmitted infection human papillomavirus HPV when he noticed something odd. Among humans alone, there are more than different strains in circulation, which are collectively responsible for Of these, one of the deadliest is HPV, which is able to linger in the body for years as it quietly corrupts the cells that it infects.

But there is a clear divide globally between where certain variants of this virus are found. Intriguingly, the pattern exactly matches the distribution of Neanderthal DNA worldwide — not only do people in sub-Saharan Africa carry unusual strains of HPV, but they carry relatively little Neanderthal genetic material. To find out what was going on, Pimenoff used the genetic diversity among type A today to calculate that it first emerged roughly 60, toyears ago. This makes it much younger than the other kinds of HPV — and crucially, this happens to be around the time that early modern humans emerged from Africa, and came into contact with Neanderthals.

In fact, sex with Neanderthals might have left us with a of other viruses, including an ancient relative of HIV. The animal kingdom contains a kaleidoscopic array of imaginative des. One way in which human penises are unusual is that they are smooth. Back inscientists discovered that the genetic code for penile spines is lacking from Neanderthal and Denisovan genomesjust as it is from modern humans, suggesting that it vanished from our collective ancestors at leastyears ago.

This is ificant, because penis spines are thought to be most useful in promiscuous specieswhere they may help males to compete with others and maximise the chances of reproducing. This has led to speculation that — like us — Neanderthals and Denisovans were mostly monogamous. In a higher-testosterone environment, people tend to end up with lower ratios. This is true regardless of biological sex. Since this discovery, links have been found between digit ratios and facial attractivenesssexual orientationrisk-takingacademic performancehow empathetic women are, how dominant men seem, and even the size of their testicles — though some studies in this area are controversial.

Back ina team of scientists noticed a pattern among the closest relatives of humanstoo. It turns out chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans — which are generally more promiscuous — have lower digit ratios on average, while an early modern human found in an Israeli cave and present-day humans had higher ratios 0. If they are right, Neanderthals — who had ratios in between the two groups 0. Once a Neanderthal-early-modern-human couple had found each other, they may have settled down near where the man lived, with each generation following the same pattern.

Genetic evidence from Neanderthals suggests that households were composed of related men, their partners and children. Women seemed to leave their family home when they found a partner. Another insight into happily-ever-after scenarios between early modern humans and Neanderthals comes from a study of the genes they left behind in Icelandic people today. Last year, an analysis of the genomes of 27, such individuals revealed the ages that Neanderthals tended to have children : while the women were usually older than their early modern human counterparts, the men were generally young fathers.

If our couple had a baby then perhaps — like other Neanderthals — the mother would have breastfed them for around nine months and fully weaned them at around 14 monthswhich is earlier than humans in modern non-industrial societies. Curiosity about these ancient interactions is revealing new information about how Neanderthals lived in general — and why they disappeared. Even if you have no interest in ancient humans, these unions are thought to have contributed to a range of traits modern humans carry today, from skin tone, hair colour and height to our sleeping patterns, mood and immune systems.

Learning about them is already leading to potential treatments for modern diseases, such as drugs that target a Neanderthal gene thought to contribute to severe cases of Covid One emerging theory is that diseases carried by the two subspecies — such as HPV and herpes — initially formed an invisible barrier, which prevented either from expanding their territory and potentially coming into contact. In the few areas where they did overlap, they interbred and early modern humans acquired useful immunity genes which suddenly made it possible to venture further.

But Neanderthals had no such luck — modelling suggests that if they had a higher burden of disease to begin with, they may have remained vulnerable to these exotic new strains for longer, regardless of interbreeding — and this means they were stuck.

Eventually, the ancestors of present-day humans made it to their territories, and wiped them out. Another idea is that we gradually absorbed their relatively small population into that of early modern humans. Perhaps the couple who got together in prehistoric Romania live on in someone reading this article. one million Future fans by liking us on Facebookor follow us on Twitter or Instagram. Here's what we know sex with Neanderthals was like. Share using. By Zaria Gorvett 13th January Scientists know a surprising amount about the titillating episode in human history when our species got together, including whether we kissed and the nature of their sexual organs.

Their eyes met across the rugged mountain landscape of prehistoric Romania. You might also like: How did the last Neanderthals live? The weird future of life on Earth Was human evolution inevitable? Kissing InLaura Weyrich — an anthropologist at Pennsylvania State University — discovered the ghostly ature of a microscopic 48,year-old hitchhiker clinging to a prehistoric tooth.

The Last Neanderthal: How Neanderthal are you? Is our microbiome working correctly because we picked up microorganisms from Neanderthals? Sexually transmitted diseases A few years ago, Ville Pimenoff was studying the sexually transmitted infection human papillomavirus HPV when he noticed something odd. These sexual encounters must have been rather typical in Eurasia, in areas where both human populations were present — Ville Pimenoff.

Penis spines are thought to be most useful in promiscuous species, where they may help males to maximise their chances of reproducing. Walking off into the sunset Once a Neanderthal-early-modern-human couple had found each other, they may have settled down near where the man lived, with each generation following the same pattern.

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