Scientists map DNA of 45,000-year-old man from thigh bone

Study on ‘high-quality’ genome from Siberian remains examine Neanderthal ancestry

Yet another huge leap in time has occurred for those trying to extract "live" genetic material from ancient bones. An international team of scientists acquired a "high-quality" genome of a 45,000-year-old modern human male living in what is now Siberia. The scientists were also able to determine what the man typically had for dinner.

The man is the oldest directly radiocarbon dated modern human outside Africa and the Middle East, say the scientists who recovered the genome.

The study focused on what the DNA - extracted from the person's left thigh bone - could say about his family tree, whether he was linked to Eurasian populations or to human groups further east. The study also looked at how much Neanderthal ancestry the person's genetic blueprint carried.

The bone was recovered on the banks of the river Irtysh near the settlement of Ust'-Ishim in western Siberia, the authors write in a report released this evening (wed oct 22) in the journal Nature.


Radiocarbon dating methods but also gene analysis determined that the man lived 45,000 years before present. A chemical isotope study of bone samples also determined what he had for his tea. He ate land plants and the local animals that consumed them, but fresh fish was also an important food item on his menu.

The study showed that the Ust’-Ishim man was equally closely related to present-day Asians and to 8,000 to 24,000 year-old individuals from western Eurasia, but not to present day Europeans.

He also carries the genetic evidence of a mixture between anatomically modern humans and the Neanderthals. The overlap period for this mixing is thought to be between 37,000 and 86,000 years ago. Neanderthal genes make up about 2.3 per cent of the Ust’-Ishim man’s genome, similar to present-day east Asians (1.7-2.1 per cent), and to present-day Europeans (1.6-1.8 per cent), the authors write.

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former Science Editor.