A Family Portrait

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A new genetic study on Neanderthal remains at a Siberian cave is providing scientists with the first-ever glimpse of how a family of the extinct hominin species looked, Live Science reported.

In 2019, excavators found a historical treasure trove at the Chagyrskaya Cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia, including thousands of stone artifacts, bone tools and 74 Neanderthal fossils.

The cave was located about 60 miles from the Denisova Cave, where a research team previously found evidence of another extinct species of hominin called the Denisovans just over a decade ago.

Radiocarbon dating showed the Neanderthal remains were more than 50,000 years old, while analysis of the area – believed to be a bison hunting camp – revealed that the ancient community lived in a cold environment.

Recently, a new research team looked into the genetic makeup of the former inhabitants of the Chagyrskaya and neighboring Okladnikov Caves. Their findings unveiled an astounding 13 genomes – almost doubling the number of complete Neanderthal genome sequences in existence.

But they also got a better understanding of how Neanderthal familial relationships worked: The prehistoric inhabitants were all closely related and lived in groups of 20 or fewer individuals. DNA models also showed that female migration impacted the community’s organization, as many females were believed to have left their group to join new ones.

At the same time, there was no evidence that the Neanderthals mingled with the Denisovans.

While the study offers some revealing insight into Neanderthal families, the authors cautioned that the Chagyrskaya community might not represent other groups outside the Altai Mountains.

As for what happened to the family, researchers speculated that they died of starvation as a result of isolation, bitter cold and a poor bison hunt.

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