The DNA of extinct humans can be retrieved from sediments in caves – even in the absence of skeletal remains.
Researchers found the genetic material in sediment samples collected from seven archaeological sites.
The remains of ancient humans are often scarce, so the new findings could help scientists learn the identity of inhabitants at sites where only artefacts have been found.
The results are described in Science.
Antonio Rosas, a scientist at Spain’s Natural Science Museum in Madrid, said: “This work represents an enormous scientific breakthrough.
“We can now tell which species of hominid occupied a cave and on which particular stratigraphic level, even when no bone or skeletal remains are present.”
“We know that several components of sediments can bind DNA,” said lead researcher Matthias Meyer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
“We therefore decided to investigate whether hominin DNA may survive in sediments at archaeological sites known to have …