Palaeoproteomics helps differentiate between modern humans and Neanderthals
The Châtelperronian of central France and northern Spain is critical to the debate regarding Neanderthal cognition, their use of artefacts typically associated with modern humans and finally, their extinction. Despite intense research, the exact biological nature of the Châtelperronian people is still disputed and no direct molecular data for a Neanderthal association with the Châtelperronian has been obtained. To solve this problem, an international research team utilized recent developments in ancient protein analysis, combined with multiple additional lines of evidence to demonstrate that the Châtelperronian hominins at the Grotte du Renne, an archaeological site from north central France, are Neanderthals.
|Châtelperronian Neanderthal body ornaments from the Grotte du Renne in Arcy-sur-Cure in France |
[Credit: Marian Vanhaeren]
For the first time, the paper demonstrates the ability of palaeoproteomics to discriminate between Late Pleistocene clades within the human genus based on protein amino acid sequences alone. “To differentiate between modern humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans on the basis of ancient protein research provides really exciting opportunities for future research into the origins of our and their evolutionary history”, says lead author Frido Welker of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the University of York. “These ancient hominin proteins in Pleistocene bones hold valuable phylogenetic and physiological information.”
Bones derive from Neanderthal infant
For example, the researchers were able to provide independent morphological, isotopic and proteomic lines of evidence that suggest that the analyzed bone specimens derive from a breastfeeding infant. “To identify proteins related to specific developmental stages of bone formation highlights one of the main strengths of ancient protein research, especially in a multi-disciplinary context”, says Matthew Collins of the University of York. Ph.D. student Frido Welker adds “The dynamic nature of the bone proteome has a lot to offer when studying the physiology and ontogeny of Pleistocene mammals, including hominins.”
|Entrance of the Grotte du Renne (right) [Credit: © M. Hardy]|
Jean-Jacques Hublin, director of the Department of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, explains “The process of replacement of archaic local populations by modern humans in Eurasia is still poorly understood as the makers of many palaeolithic tool-kits of this time period remain unknown. This type of research allows us to extract unrecognisable human fragments out of large archaeological assemblages and to revisit the mode and the tempo of this major event in human evolution with fresh material“.
The findings are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Source: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology [September 19, 2016]