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October 20, 2022

Two Siberian caves have yielded bones of 13 individuals, offering fascinating genetic perspectives, according to an article entitled Genetic insights into the social organization of Neanderthals published in the journal Nature this week. Chagyrskaya Cave gave the authors of this paper, Skov et al. (the listing of which included the recent Nobel laureate for Science Svante Paabo), the remains of 11Neanderthals and Okladnikov Cave yielded two more. These two caves are located in the Altai Mountains at the farthest eastern extreme of the known Neanderthal range.

Here is the paper's abstract: "Genomic analyses of Neanderthals have previously provided insights into their population history and relationship to modern humans1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8, but the social organization of Neanderthal communities remains poorly understood. Here we present genetic data for 13 Neanderthals from two Middle Palaeolithic sites in the Altai Mountains of southern Siberia: 11 from Chagyrskaya Cave9,10 and 2 from Okladnikov Cave11—making this one of the largest genetic studies of a Neanderthal population to date. We used hybridization capture to obtain genome-wide nuclear data, as well as mitochondrial and Y-chromosome sequences. Some Chagyrskaya individuals were closely related, including a father–daughter pair and a pair of second-degree relatives, indicating that at least some of the individuals lived at the same time. Up to one-third of these individuals’ genomes had long segments of homozygosity, suggesting that the Chagyrskaya Neanderthals were part of a small community. In addition, the Y-chromosome diversity is an order of magnitude lower than the mitochondrial diversity, a pattern that we found is best explained by female migration between communities. Thus, the genetic data presented here provide a detailed documentation of the social organization of an isolated Neanderthal community at the easternmost extent of their known range."

Here is the nature paper.