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Ancient boy’s DNA pushes back date of earliest humans

Homo sapiens may have emerged as a genetically distinct species as early as 350,000 years ago

By
2:00pm, September 28, 2017
African San people

DEEP PAST  A new comparison of ancient and modern human DNA concludes that Homo sapiens emerged earlier than typically thought, perhaps around 350,000 years ago. African San people, such as these, belong to a genetic line that originated roughly 260,000 years ago, researchers estimate.

A boy who lived in what’s now South Africa nearly 2,000 years ago has lent a helping genome to science. Using the long-gone youngster’s genetic instruction book, scientists have estimated that humans emerged as a distinct population earlier than typically thought, between 350,000 and 260,000 years ago.

The trick was retrieving a complete version of the ancient boy’s DNA from his skeleton to compare with DNA from people today and from Stone Age Neandertals and Denisovans. Previously documented migrations of West African farmers to East Africa around 2,000 years ago, and then to southern Africa around 1,500 years ago, reshaped Africans’ genetics — and obscured ancient ancestry patterns — more than has been known, the researchers report online September 28 in Science.

The ancient boy’s DNA was not affected by those migrations. As a result, it

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