There is new evidence that 40,000 years ago the first modern humans in Europe did mate with Neanderthals. But the associations seem to have stopped.

An early modern human (reconstructed below left and centre) has recently been discovered from Romania and its DNA shows similarities with that of Neanderthal ancestors (below, right).

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Peștera cu Oase “The Cave with Bones” is a system of 12 karstic galleries and chambers located near Anina, southwestern Romania, where these early modern human remains have been discovered.

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A report in this week’s Nature magazine (Qiaomei Fu et al. Nature 524, August 13th, 216-219) shows that a Oase fossil had a recent Neanderthal ancestor, with an estimated 6-9% Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA. The specimen’s 12th chromosome was also 50% Neanderthal.

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But there is no sign that these or any other early Europeans share more than these few genes with the Neanderthals. Why did they not interact further? Does a clue lie in Neanderthal art, like the noughts-and-crosses image found in Gibraltar (above, right)? The loser in that game may have run away in disgust.