A new study has revealed that Neanderthals who lived in Gibraltar and France over 42 to 50 thousand years ago had a closer genetic connection than previously thought. The study, conducted by genomic analysis of a Neanderthal from the Rhone Valley named Thorin, showed that he was genetically closer to Gibraltar’s Forbes Quarry skull than any other known Neanderthal. The findings suggest that Gibraltar’s Neanderthals were more closely related to those from Mediterranean France than to those from Western Europe.

The study also identified at least eight previously unknown populations of early Europeans by analyzing DNA from ancient remains. Researchers discovered that several waves of hunter-gatherers migrated into Europe, with some populations more genetically distinct from each other than modern-day Europeans and Asians. These groups coexisted in Europe for thousands of years, sharing cultures and trading tools. Some groups survived the Ice Age, while others disappeared, perhaps wiped out by other groups.

The new genetic analysis challenges previous assumptions about the arrival of farmers in Europe 8,000 years ago, suggesting that when they arrived, they encountered the descendants of a long history of light-skinned, dark-eyed people to the east, and possibly dark-skinned and blue-eyed people to the west. The study also highlights the complex and dynamic nature of prehistoric Europe and how so many different groups emerged between 45,000 to 5,000 years ago.

The Director of the Gibraltar Museum, Professor Clive Finlayson, said that the findings indicate that Gibraltar’s Neanderthals were part of a late-surviving and fragmented population. The study’s lead author, Vanessa Villalba-Mouco, a paleogeneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, said, “We are finally understanding the dynamics of European hunter-gatherers.”

The study also sheds light on the family structure of a Neanderthal community, providing a rare glimpse into their close-knit family structure. The study’s co-author, Cosimo Posth, a paleogeneticist at the University of Tübingen in Germany, said that the Neanderthal community had extremely low genetic diversity, consistent with a group size of just 10 to 20 people, much smaller than the genetic diversity recorded for any ancient or present-day human community.

Overall, the study reveals the complex genetic history of Europe and the close links between Neanderthal populations living in Gibraltar and France. The findings provide new insights into the prehistoric era and challenge previous assumptions about the arrival of farmers in Europe. The study’s authors hope that their research will continue to shed light on the complex and dynamic nature of prehistoric Europe.

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