Mysterious early relative of man discovered

CREATED Dec. 7, 2013

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Genetic evidence has revealed the existence of a previously unknown human relative -- one ancient man must have had sex with.

According to Nature.com, a new analysis of the DNA footprint of Neanderthals and Denisovans -- a little understood group of ancient humanoids -- reveal the intense cross-breeding between different species tens of thousands of years ago. The study also unveiled the existence of an as-yet-unknown human ancestor that joined the party and likely cross-bred as well.

“What it begins to suggest is that we’re looking at a ‘Lord of the Rings’-type world — that there were many hominid populations,” Mark Thomas, an evolutionary geneticist at University College London, told Nature.com.

Evolutionary geneticist David Reich presented the study at a Nov. 18 meeting of the Royal Society in London. He and a team of researchers presented a more complete genetic analysis of those ancient hominids than had previously been revealed, as well as bits of an extinct population that lived in Asia some 30,000 years ago.

Who that group was is a complete mystery, experts said.

“We don’t have the faintest idea,” said Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London, who was not involved in the work. 

The group may be related to known offshoots of man -- literally kissing cousins, according to Carles Lalueza-Fox, a paleogenomics researcher at Pompeu Fabra University in Spain.

"It's implied it could be something like Homo erectus or similar," Fox, was who was present at the presentation, told LiveScience.